2023 has been a difficult year for all West Papuans forcibly displaced by Indonesian genocidal violence. From Intan Jaya to Nduga, Oksibil to Yahukimo, tens of thousands of West Papuans continue to suffer a hidden refugee crisis, caused by Indonesian colonialism and corporate greed.

Rather than celebrate Christmas with their extended family or neighbouring tribe, these West Papuans will spend the Christmas period in the bush, refugees in their own ancestral lands. Close to 80,000 West Papuans remain internally displaced by Indonesian military operations, lacking adequate food, water, medical facilities in which to give birth, or schools to educate their children. Adding to this grave humanitarian crisis, we are hearing that even more Indonesian troops, including the notorious and feared Brimob unit, have lately been deployed to West Papua. 

Alongside the tens of thousands of West Papuans prevented from returning to their homes by occupying Indonesian soldiers, thousands more will spend Christmas in refugee camps. I pray that God will look after all Papuan refugees this festive period.  

I want to thank all our solidarity groups from around the world, who will keep West Papua in their thoughts as they celebrate with their families this Christmas. Please continue to be a voice for the voiceless people in 2024. Thank you to the Free West Papua campaign teams in Netherlands, the UK, the United States, and the Pacific, who do the vital work of pushing our freedom struggle forward. Thank you to the West Papua Council of Churches, the Pacific Council of Churches, and all civil society organisations in the Pacific, who support us with your prayers and practical solidarity. 

I also give my thanks to everyone who helped organise the historic first ULMWP Congress in November – the Congress Committee, the People’s Forum, and the massess of ordinary Papuans who attended. This event was a milestone in our struggle, a symbol of our stolen sovereignty, and a statement to the world that West Papuans are ready for independence. I was honoured to have been chosen as ULMWP President by the 5000 Papuans, representing all seven regions of our nation, who gathered in Jayapura to take ownership of their movement.  

I invite all West Papuans to rally behind the ULMWP. The people have given us their mandate, and we are ready to work with all in service of our agreed agenda. It is vital for the success of our struggle that all parties are fully focused on our roadmap of gaining full membership of the MSG, securing a UN visit to West Papua, and winning an internationally mediated self-determination referendum. Our mission is progressing and we cannot afford distractions. 

To all West Papuans, whether women or children living in the refugee camps, students in the cities, or the elders in the bush – our home guard, who suffered for years and kept the flame alive by raising the Morning Star during the darkest days of our movement – you are not alone. The world is hearing your cry. This year, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) leaders issued their own communique calling for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to be allowed into West Papua, adding their voices to the existing calls of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS). Thank you to all Melanesian leaders for your consistent support.  

Indonesia cannot hide their shameful secret anymore. The demand of Melanesian leaders is clear: Indonesia must facilitate a UN visit to West Papua before the next MSG meeting in April 2024. The brutal repression of peaceful protests on December 1st and Human Rights Day further proves that we are not safe with Indonesia.  

I am confident that 2024 will prove a successful year for the cause of West Papuan independence. With the support of our people back home, our struggle will gain new supporters, progress our agenda, and reach new heights. 

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you all.  

Benny Wenda