West Papuan students face ‘hardship and stress’ over scholarship loss

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West Papuan student Roy Towolom
West Papuan student Roy Towolom ... “It was pretty shocking. There was no specific reason why the funds were cut." Image: David Unwin/Stuff

By George Heagney of Stuff

A group of students from West Papua, the Melanesian Pacific region in Indonesia, are fearful about their futures in New Zealand after their scholarships were cut off.

A group of about 40 students have been studying at different tertiary institutions in New Zealand, but in December received a letter from the provincial government of Papua saying their living allowances, travel and study fees were stopping and they had to return home because their studies had not met expectations.

Auckland-based West Papua student Laurens Ikinia is part of a group advocating for the students. He said some students had gone home, but about 25 remained at Auckland, Waikato and Canterbury universities, as well as Palmerston North polytech UCOL and the tertiary institution IPU New Zealand.

“The reason the government used was because we were not making any progress on our studies. We have actually requested from the provincial government about how did they come up with that?

“All the students on the list are halfway through completing their studies. All the information they put in is completely wrong.”

Ikinia said the letter had been a shock and many of the students were uncertain about whether they could stay in New Zealand.

Many were struggling without the scholarship, unable to focus on their studies and “mentally and emotionally unstable”.

Plea for help
The group had asked Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi and the Green Party for help.

Roy Towolom, 21, came to New Zealand in 2016 from Tolikara and attended Awatapu College in Palmerston North.

He is one of 11 Papuan students in his carpentry course at UCOL and he has about a week left before he completes his studies. UCOL and his church have been supporting him since his living allowance stopped.

Towolom said the affected students were confused about being asked to leave and the government letter did not make sense and was out of date.

“It was pretty shocking. There was no specific reason why the funds were cut. We didn’t know what the reason was.”

His student visa expires next month, but he wants to stay in New Zealand and is thinking about becoming a builder. He hopes to get a work visa.

Papuan student advocate Laurens Ikinia
Papuan student advocate Laurens Ikinia … ““All the students on the list are halfway through completing their studies.” Image: Del Abcede/Asia Pacific Report

Run by provincial government
A spokesperson for the Indonesian Embassy said the scholarship programme in New Zealand was run by the provincial government of Papua and 593 students were receiving the scholarship.

The decision to repatriate some Papuan students overseas was “based on evaluation regarding academic performance, the time allocation of the relevant scholarships”.

“It is also important to highlight that only those who have exceeded the allocated time of the scholarship and those who cannot meet the academic requirements are being recalled.”

The spokesperson said most scholarship recipients had been studying in New Zealand since 2015 and were yet to finish their tertiary education as planned.

“The decision to repatriate certain students does not impact on those students who remain on track with regards to their studies abroad.

“The assessment is also conducted to ensure that other eligible students from Papua province also obtain the same opportunity in pursuing their studies.”

The embassy had been in contact with the affected students.

Encouraged to leave ‘voluntarily’
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Faafoi said students who did not meet requirements to stay in New Zealand would be encouraged to leave voluntarily.

None of the students were at risk of being deported and Immigration New Zealand had discussed the situation with them.

“Students who do not meet requirements to stay in New Zealand will be encouraged to depart voluntarily.”

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi … “Students who do not meet requirements to stay in New Zealand will be encouraged to depart voluntarily,” says spokesperson. Image: Robert Kitchin/Stuff

The Papuan provincial government would cover their repatriation costs, the spokesperson said.

A UCOL spokesperson said the institution was supporting the 15 students at UCOL with living costs.

The University of Canterbury’s international partnership and support manager Monique van Veen said the university’s student care team was working with the affected students.

“It has definitely created hardship and stress for these scholars. We have been in touch with Education New Zealand to let them know what’s going on.”

A spokesperson for the University of Waikato said they were unable to comment due to privacy reasons.

IPU and the University of Auckland did not respond to a request for comment.

The Papuan provincial government has been contacted for comment.

George Heagney is a Stuff reporter. Republished with permission.

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