The population of West Papua is estimated at approximately 1,800,000. There is estimated to be 770,000 migrants now living in the province, mainly landless Javanese, sponsored and unsponsored, encouraged to move to West Papua under the government’s Transmigration program. Under this national program of population resettlement, the province of West Papua is now the largest recipient of migrants transported from other islands such as Java, Bali and Sulawesi. The most extensive migration program in history, the Indonesian government’s Trans-migration program has contributed to West Papua having one of the country’s highest provincial population growth rates. There is also considerably greater pressure on the natural environment due to land clearance, legal and illegal, poaching and encroachment by settlers into nature reserves.
West Papua’s population was 85 per cent Christian before the annexation. This number has declined in the past few years.
The province has the poorest health standards of all twenty seven Indonesian provinces, including the highest infant mortality and maternal mortality rates. The average yearly provincial health department budget is only AUD $1.3 million. According to a 1995 United Nations index, of all the ASEAN countries Indonesia has the lowest quality of life, yet the statistics for Irian Jaya are by far the lowest in the country. This index includes longevity, measured by life expectancy, knowledge, measured by years of schooling, and standard of living, measured by purchasing power.
“All indigenous peoples … have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”
The people of West Papua are composed of various language groups, such as the Dani of the Baliem Valley in the central highlands, the Asmat of the southern, coastal region and the Ekari of the Wissel Lakes region. There are at least 250 main languages spoken by the indigenous people, reflecting the isolation and small numbers of many of the tribes. However, the long term policy of the Indonesian government is the universal use of Bahasa Indonesia, the national language of Indonesia. This is taught in West Papua’s schools from grade one onwards, whereas in other provinces of Indonesia the first three years of instruction at primary level are given in the local vernacular. The percentage of illiteracy for West Papua is nearly double the national average and quoted as 30.5 with a rate of 81.5 in the highlands district.
The destruction of West Papua’s culture and environment is taking place with the full knowledge of the governments of the Western nations, protecting the business interests of numerous large multi-national corporations active in West Papua. Throughout the period of Indonesian government rule, President Soeharto and his associates have exploited the resources of West Papua in the worst tradition of military-based, authoritarian governments, and have sought to keep the issue hidden from the outside world. With a highly controlled Indonesian press and restrictions on movement within the province, geographical remoteness and difficulties of access have combined to make West Papua the silent genocide of modern times.