Indonesian Interior Minister, Tito Karnavian, is refusing to suspend flights and ships carrying individuals from other parts of Indonesia into West Papua, despite the clear threat of Covid-19 to hundreds of thousands of West Papuans. Tito’s intervention directly overrules the Governor of West Papua’s policy immediately halting such transports to stop the virus taking hold.

Indonesian colonialism has left us with a weak healthcare system that does little for Indigenous West Papuans: if the virus is not stopped from entering, our survival is at risk. Tito’s action demonstrates that the Indonesian State is playing recklessly with the lives of West Papuans. They are not acting to protect us. Jakarta itself is going into lock-down – why are the most basic measures to protect West Papuans not being taken?

For 57 years Indonesia has banned all international journalists and aid agencies from entering West Papua, hiding its mass killings, torture and rape from the world. Instead, Indonesian settlers have been allowed to flow in, reducing the Indigenous West Papuan population from 96% in the 1960s to around 50% today. Now, Indonesia continues to ban journalists, but is refusing to stop Indonesian migrants who may carry Covid-19 in. We can only conclude that Indonesia’s intentions towards our people are genocidal.

The ULMWP has already called for West Papuans to return to their traditional livelihoods to protect themselves. We now support the policy of the Governor of West Papua, as a matter of humanitarian principle, to halt incoming migrant transportation from Indonesia. Covid-19 is already spreading in Indonesia, and unless incoming migrant transports are stopped, the virus will proliferate through West Papua and put thousands of lives at risk. Incoming transports should be limited to essential food and medical supplies.

Interior Minister Tito was once head of police in West Papua, in charge of harsh attempts to crush the West Papuan liberation movement. He also served as head of Detachment 88 (Densus 88), an Indonesian ‘counter-terrorism’ unit implicated in beatings, surveillance and killings in West Papua. Tito’s refusal to protect lives by stopping incoming migrants is a further continuation of his brutal and genocidal intent towards my people. He must reverse his decision, and release all West Papuan political prisoners at risk of Covid-19 in Indonesian prisons, immediately.

Benny Wenda