West Papuan students fight on for rights to education in Aotearoa

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Laurens Ikinia (right) is advocating for a group of Papuan students
Laurens Ikinia (right) is advocating for a group of students from West Papua in Indonesia who have had their scholarships cut. He is pictured talking with Palmerston North UCOL student Roy Towolom. Image: Warwick Smith/Stuff

By George Heagney of Stuff in Palmerston North

Students from West Papua desperate to stay in New Zealand after having their scholarships cut are pinning their hopes on finding an employer to sponsor new working visas.

About 40 students from the Indonesian province of Papua have been studying at different tertiary institutions in New Zealand.

In December they 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.

About 12 have returned home, but the rest fear for their future.

The Papuan provincial government has not responded to requests for comment.

Laurens Ikinia, an Auckland-based West Papua student, is advocating for the group.

He said eight of the students had finished their carpentry course at Palmerston North polytech UCOL last week.

Hopeful for work
Those students were hopeful of securing work for a company that would sponsor them to get work visas and provide them with jobs.

Ikinia said there were more job opportunities in New Zealand.

“Every one of us, we have that dream and we came here, apart from studying, hoping to get two or three years’ experience,” he said.

Ikinia said the mental wellbeing of the students who had lost their scholarships was a concern, and they were fighting for their rights in education.

“The students are unstable. After having met students and hearing from them, they are really concerned about visas and living expenses because it really stresses them.”

Some tertiary institutions have been supporting the affected students, including UCOL, which has been assisting 15 students with living costs.

Humanitarian aid requested
Ikinia has asked the New Zealand government for humanitarian support.

“If we get experience we can go back home, we contribute to our families and communities.”

One of the students, Roy Towolom, has been in New Zealand since 2016, having attended high school and has now completed his carpentry course at UCOL.

He said it was not an option to go home and wanted to stay in New Zealand.

Immigration New Zealand’s general manager of border and visa operations Nicola Hogg said officials from the Indonesian Embassy in Wellington had met with the students and provided care packages.

An immigration options sheet has been distributed to the affected students.

“There is nothing preventing the students from applying for a new visa if they are lawfully in New Zealand,” she said.

‘No restriction in instructions’
“There is no restriction in immigration instructions requiring foreign government-sponsored students to return home if their scholarship ceases, or if they have completed their scholarship.”

Some of the students have applied for subsequent visas, including work visas, which would be assessed according to the immigration policy instructions.

Hogg said the students would need to meet the requirements of the new visa they applied for, including financial, health and character.

If their visa was declined because they did not meet the instructions, they should leave New Zealand voluntarily. The provincial government of Papua would cover repatriation costs.

Immigration is working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the issue and both agencies have met with the Indonesian ambassador.

A spokesperson for the Indonesian Embassy told Stuff earlier in May the decision to repatriate some Papuan students overseas was based on academic performance and the time of their scholarships.

Only those who had exceeded the allocated time for the scholarship and those who could not meet the academic requirements were being recalled, they said.

George Heagney is a Stuff reporter. Republished with permission.

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