Development environment

13 May 2014 | Frederik Kok

Indonesia: durable solutions needed for protracted IDPs as new displacement occurs in Papua

At least three million Indonesians have been internally displaced by armed conflict, violence and human rights violations since 1998. Most displacement took place between 1998 and 2004 when Indonesia, still in the early stages of democratic transition and decentralisation, experienced a period of intense social unrest characterised by high levels of inter-communal, inter-faith and separatist violence.

Although the overwhelming majority of Indonesia’s IDPs have long returned home at least 90,000 remain in protracted displacement, over a decade after the end of these conflicts. Many are unable to return due to lack of government assistance to recover lost rights to housing, land and property. In areas affected by inter-communal violence communities have been transformed and segregated along religious or ethnic lines. Unresolved land disputes are rife with former neighbours often unwilling to welcome IDPs back. IDPs who sought to locally integrate in areas where they have been displaced, or who have been relocated by the government, have also struggled to rebuild their lives due to lack of access to land, secure tenure, livelihoods and basic services.

Over the past ten years, new displacement has also continued in several provinces of Indonesia, although at much reduced levels. According to official government figures some 11,500 people were displaced between 2006 and 2014, including 3,000 in 2013 alone. Most displacement has been triggered by clashes linked to unresolved ethnic or religious tensions, land disputes or attacks on religious minorities.

Official IDP statistics do not include civilians displaced in the easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua due to ongoing armed conflict between the Indonesian Armed Forces and the non-state armed group the Free Papua Movement – Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM). Counter-insurgency operations in the central highlands forced several thousand people to flee in 2013 and 2014. Government restrictions on humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas continue to prevent a full assessment of IDP numbers and needs by humanitarian agencies.

The government and the international community have made considerable efforts to assist IDPs in the country, however, serious gaps remain. The 2007 Law on Disaster Management and the 2012 Law on the Handling of Social Conflict have strengthened the legal framework to respond to displacement caused by conflict and natural hazard induced disasters. However, such legislation does not provide a comprehensive legal basis for protecting the rights of IDPs, in particular those displaced by conflict, and the laws are yet to be effectively implemented. The government should amend existing legislation to bring it into line with international standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Internal displacement so as to ensure IDP’s rights are upheld.

Central and local authorities, with the support of the international community, have since 2005 worked to address the needs of protracted IDPs, returnees and host communities. Between 2010 and 2013, funding of $5 million from the European Union allowed for IDP-specific projects to be implemented in West Timor, Maluku and Central Sulawesi. Most aimed at improving vulnerable populations’ access to basic services, building their livelihood skills and strengthening the capacity of local authorities to address their needs.

In the absence of international funding to continue these programmes, it is important to ensure that IDPs’ outstanding needs, in particular those related to access to land and tenure security, are addressed through local and national development plans. Continued support from international development actors, such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is also essential.  


Since the end in 1998 of President Suharto’s “New Order”, a 32-year period of centralised and military-dominated government, Indonesia’s uneasy transition to democracy has been marked by episodes of intense conflict and violence that have rocked the archipelago from east to west. The conflicts involved clashes between opposed religious and ethnic communities but also between the government and non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in Aceh, East Timor and Papua. They forced an estimated three million people into displacement between 1998 and 2004.

At the heart of many of these conflicts that pitted religious or ethnic groups against each other were deep frustrations at the local level over uneven development, high poverty levels aggravated by economic recession and the perception that migrants, moved since the 1960s by the government from overcrowded to less populated regions of the country, had been given better economic opportunities (Duncan, 2008, p.105). Combined with spontaneous migration, these government-sponsored migration programmes often led to new ethnic tensions between migrants and locals and increased disputes over land and resources (Braithwaite et al., March 2010, p.27). In the political vacuum created by Suharto’s fall, local power struggles erupted into inter-religious conflict in Central Sulawesi and Maluku provinces and inter-ethnic violence in Central and West Kalimantan provinces. In provinces such as Central Sulawesi, the decentralisation process, including the creation of new districts, also contributed to increasing political competition at the local level and encouraged mobilisation of groups along ethnic or religious lines (CRISE, February 2008, p.10). While most of these conflicts have now subsided, tensions remain in many post-conflict areas such as Maluku, Central Sulawesi and Aceh where significant numbers of IDPs remain and where the potential for renewed violence still exists (UNDP, June 2012, p.2).

The 2002 independence of Timor-Leste and the 2005 peace agreement in Aceh, which allowed for increased autonomy, have put an end to conflict and violence there and contributed to addressing local political and economic grievances. However, no such progress has been possible in Papua where the 2001 Special Autonomy law has failed to address the many socio-economic and political challenges facing indigenous Papuans. Papuans remain also deeply frustrated by severe limitations imposed on their freedom of expression and the harsh repression of political dissent (AI, 31 July 2013). They also feel they are further marginalised by the high number of Indonesian settlers (RNZ, 5 March 2014; Jakarta Post, 10 February 2014). No meaningful dialogue has been established between the government and the increasingly fragmented Papuan society, with many indigenous Papuans continuing to pin their hopes on independence (ICG, 9 August 2012, p.6).

Causes of displacement

Violence between different religious and ethnic communities and fighting and human rights violations during armed conflicts in Aceh, East Timor and Papua have been the leading causes of displacement in Indonesia since 1998. A range of actors have been responsible for displacement, including Indonesian security forces and NSAGs, paramilitary groups and civilian militias. 

As elsewhere, displacement in Indonesia is multi-causal with armed conflict, violence, natural disasters and development projects often combining to create an environment conducive to displacement. The transmigration programme, which encouraged people to leave densely populated islands such as Java, Bali and Madura, has been at the heart of many conflicts that resulted in large-scale displacement. Land appropriation for natural resources is often accompanied by excessive use of violence by security forces, leading to forced evictions and increased tensions within and between communities (IRIN, 28 March 2014). The impact of the many natural hazards that regularly affect Indonesia is exacerbated by land deforestation resulting from logging and clearing of land for palm oil plantations (IRIN, 1 July 2010).

Ethnic and religious conflict since 1998

An estimated 1.4 million people were forced from their homes between 1998 and 2002 when the country was hit by a wave of inter-communal violence that spread across the archipelago. During that period what often started as small disputes between members of different ethnic communities in West and Central Kalimantan, or religious communities in Maluku, North Maluku and Central Sulawesi quickly turned into larger violent inter-communal confrontations with scores of people killed and property destroyed (UNDP, 2005).

Two years of violence between Christians and Muslims in Maluku and North Maluku left nearly 6,000 people killed and up to 800,000 displaced in both provinces (HRW, 1 June 2000; UNDP, 2005, p.37). In Central Sulawesi, a similar conflict between Christians and Muslims claimed at least 700 lives with some 143,000 people displaced between 1998 and 2001 (UNDP, 2005, p.xii). From 1997 to 2001 in both West and Central Kalimantan inter-ethnic violence – pitting local indigenous Dayaks and Malays against the Madurese – displaced more than 200,000 people, most of them Madurese, (Bouvier & Smith, 2008, p. 216). 

Since 2002, inter-communal violence has continued to cause sporadic clashes and displacement in some former conflict-affected provinces, in particular in Maluku, though on a much reduced scale. These displaced at least 8,500 people between 2012 and 2014. In February 2012, some 4,000 people fled their village in Pelauw, Central Maluku, following intra-communal violence that resulted in the razing of 400 homes (AF, 22 February 2012; Jakarta Post, 12 February 2012). In January 2013, an outbreak of violence displaced around 2,000 Balinese settlers in the regency (sub-provincial administrative division) of Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara province, east of Bali (Jakarta Post, 25 January 2013). A few months earlier, in October 2012, similar attacks by locals against Balinese settlers in Sumatra’s South Lampung regency had forced 1,500 to flee their homes (Jakarta Post, 3 November 2012). In November 2013 in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province, more than 130 homes were burned down and nearly 1,000 people displaced by fighting between two villages triggered by a land dispute (Tribune News, 7 November 2013).

Since 2011, growing religious intolerance has led to a rise in attacks by Islamic militants against religious minorities, sometimes resulting in their displacement (CWS, 14 February 2014; Setara Institute, 18 January 2014). People displaced as a result of these attacks, such as members of the Shia community evicted from their homes in Sampang regency, East Java, in December 2011 and again in August 2012, or the members of the Ahmadi Islamic movement displaced in West Lombok regency, West Java, in 2006 have since not been able to return to their homes (AI, 1 October 2013, p.24).

Armed conflict and human rights violations in Aceh and Papua

In Aceh, large-scale displacement followed the intensification in 1999 of the conflict. Displacement was even encouraged by the rebels to draw attention to the conflict and was organised by the government in order to remove the population during counter-insurgency operations (Ross, 2005, p.50). Most IDPs were Acehnese displaced for relatively short periods within the province but the Javanese and the Gayo (an ethnic highland group) were disproportionately affected. Both groups were opposed to the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and joined government-sponsored militias, in particular in the central highlands where they were in the majority. At least 120,000 Javanese fled to neighbouring North Sumatra, where many remained even after the end of the conflict (IOM, August 2008, p.60; OCHA & Bakornas, July 2003, p.17).

Displacement in Papua and West Papua generally takes place as a result of military operations against OPM rebels and villages suspected of supporting them. These are often accompanied by reports of widespread human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, harassment, torture and destruction of property (The Guardian, 3 February 2014; WPM, 27 May 2013; ICP, June 2013, p.1; Chauvel, 2008, p. 170). In July 2013, members of the UN Human Rights Committee raised concern about the use of excessive force and extra-judicial killings by the military and the police in Papua (OHCHR, 21 August 2013, p.5).

In 2013, military operations in the Central Highland regency of Puncak Jaya were accompanied by reports of burnings of churches and houses, harassment, arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances (WPMA, 28 February 2013; Jakarta Post, 30 May 2013). Several thousand people were reportedly displaced, most fleeing to the forest (WPMA, 28 February 2013; WPAN, 6 September 2013). In early 2014, hundreds were similarly displaced again in Puncak Jaya but also on the island of Yapen , West Papua by military operations (AWPA, 9 February 2014; ICP, 7 February 2014).

Forced evictions and development-induced displacement

Since 2010, displacement has also been caused by a rising trend of land disputes between private companies and local communities competing for access to resources (KPA, March 2014, p.6). Land rights have come under increased threat in the context of a new drive by the government to exploit Indonesia’s vast natural resources, in particular through the massive expansion of palm oil plantations in provinces such as Papua, North Sumatra, Central Sulawesi, West and Central Kalimantan and Jambi (RSPO, November 2013, p.36).

Resistance to development projects is often met with brutality and accompanied by reports of human rights abuses by police or private guards (Fidh-Kontras, May 2013, p.11; The Guardian, 25 May 2013). Many local communities, and in particular indigenous people, have been evicted by private security firms from their land without adequate compensation or respect for their rights (IRIN, 28 March 2014; Fidh-Kontras, 2 December 2013). In December 2013, at least 70 members of the Suku Anak Dalam ethnic group living in Jambi province were displaced from their ancestral land when members of the security forces and private security guards working for a palm oil company stormed their village, destroying 150 homes (Mongabay, 14 December 2013). In August 2011, similar actions by security forces and private guards had already led to the displacement 83 families in the area (IPAC, 15 April 2014, p.22).   

Natural hazard-related displacement

Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world and is regularly hit by a variety of natural hazards, including flooding, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.  According to government data, a total of 461,000 people were displaced as a result of these disasters in 2013 and, as of April, a further 186,000 people have been displaced in 2014. Flooding and landslides are the two main triggers of displacement, accounting for three-quarters of all displacements in 2013 and 99 per cent of those that have occurred so far in 2014 (BNPB, April 2014).

As in other countries, people in Indonesia living below the poverty line tend to suffer most from natural hazards as a result of their socio-economic vulnerability. Poor building standards and the high number of vulnerable people living in areas prone to hazards mean disaster and displacement risk levels are high. The impact of natural hazards, in particular floods and flood-triggered landslides, is known to be exacerbated by natural resources exploitation activities such as logging, mining and land and forest clearing for plantations. With one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, mainly due to palm oil plantations, and a particularly high exposure to climate change, Indonesia is likely to face more frequent and more devastating disasters in the future (UMD, 14 November 2013). 

Displacement figures and patterns

At least three million Indonesians have been displaced by conflict and violence since 1998 with most of the displacement taking place between 1998 and 2004. Nearly half were displaced between 1998 and 2002 during inter-communal violence that affected the provinces of Maluku, North Maluku, West and Central Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi. Others were displaced by the separatist armed struggles in Aceh and East Timor. In Aceh, armed conflict displaced at least 600,000 people between 1999 and 2004, with an additional 120,000 people fleeing the province (MSR, December 2009, p.28). In East Timor an estimated 800,000 people fled their homes in 1999 following the UN-sponsored referendum on the province’s independence, including 240,000 who crossed into West Timor (UN, 1 March 2000).

Displacement also took place in Papua and West Papua, but figures were more difficult to come by due to limited access to conflict-affected areas. It is estimated that at least 20,000 people were displaced there between 2001 and 2006 (RSC, September 2007, p.6). In recent years, sporadic displacement has continued to be reported, with the largest displacement occurring at the end of 2011 when between 10,000 and 20,000 people were displaced in Paniai regency as a result of military operations (Radio Australia, 19 December 2011; WPMA, 14 December 2011). 

Current displacement

Based on data obtained from various sources (including government agencies, international NGOs, UN agencies and the media) IDMC estimates that as of May 2014 at least 90,000 people remain displaced in Indonesia. Nearly all are protracted IDPs who have been living in displacement since the early 2000s. Most IDPs are in the provinces that experienced the highest levels of inter-communal or insurgency-related violence between 1998 and 2004 such as Maluku and Aceh. Others live in North Sulawesi, North Sumatra or West Timor. IDPs live in both urban and rural areas, mostly in makeshift shelters or resettlement camps.

While inter-communal violence in these provinces affected both urban and rural areas and people generally fled to the safe area closest to their homes, IDPs belonging to communities that had migrated from other provinces often returned there, many ending up staying on trying to locally integrate (Aragon, August 2008, p.204). Many Christians who fled North Maluku went back to North Sulawesi where the majority managed to find new economic and educational opportunities and decided to stay (Duncan, 2008, p.16). Not all were so lucky and an estimated 4,000 people have remained living in camps (Habitat for Humanity, April 2012). 

Other IDPs who were unable to return sought refuge with family members, remained in makeshift shelters or were moved to relocation sites generally located on the outskirt of cities such as Ambon (Maluku), Pontianak (West Kalimantan) or Kupang (West Timor). In Maluku, there were still some 2,500 households living in temporary settlements in Ambon and Seram (HIVOS, 2011). In West Kalimantan, nearly 1,000 IDPs relocated outside Pontianak city in 2001 were reported in March 2014 to be in a land dispute with a palm oil company (Pontianak Post, 21 March 2014). In West Timor some 22,000 people were still living in camps in early 2014 (Jakarta Post, 17 January 2014).    

Fighting in Aceh almost exclusively affected populations living in rural areas and the estimated 44,000 people who remained displaced at the end of 2009 were mainly concentrated in districts that were most affected by the violence such as Aceh Timur, Pidie, Bireuen, Aceh Besar and Aceh Tamiang (ARLS, 2009, p.46; MSR, December 2009, p.28). Since 2009 no data has been available on IDPs in Aceh. In Langkat district, North Sumatra, where many ethnic Javanese who fled the Aceh conflict between 1999 and 2003 attempted to locally integrate and rebuild their lives, some 350 households living in Sei Lepan camp have been in a long-running land dispute with the local government, accused of encroaching on the protected Gunung Leuser National Park (BBTNGL, 22 March 2011).

In Papua, the armed conflict has mainly displaced people living in remote rural areas. Between 1984 and 1986, an estimated 12,000 Papuans fled towards neighbouring Papua New Guinea, settling in camps on both sides of the border. In 2013, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) estimated that around 4,500 remain displaced in these camps (JRS, 22 July 2013). The number of people still displaced in Papua and West Papua as a result of more recent military operations is unknown.

Finally, the figure also includes a smaller number of people displaced between 2007 and 2013 by attacks against religious minorities (West Nusa Tenggara and East Java provinces) and by land conflicts (Jambi) and who have not been able to return (AI, 1 October 2013; Mongabay, December 2013) .

Significant gaps in IDP data

According to official figures, conflict and violence displaced 11,474 people between 2006 and 2014, including 3,000 in 2013 (BNPB, April 2014). This figure was likely to significantly under-estimate total displacement as it did not take into account ongoing new displacement in Papua and West Papua provinces and it also excluded those displaced by renewed religious and inter-communal violence in Maluku in September 2011 and February 2012 respectively and which displaced some  8,000 people (ICG, 13 February 2012, p.1; AF, 22 February 2012). 

In Indonesia the main challenges in collecting data on the displaced are lack of a clear definition of who is an IDP and the fact that government IDP records do not cover all regions of the country or all displacements events. There is also no monitoring of return or other settlement options or any assessment of the extent to which these have been sustainable. The government has also no clear guidelines on when displacement ends and what constitutes a durable solution.  In Papua and West Papua restricted humanitarian access is a further impediment to data collection with government officials also often contesting reports of displacement and failing to recognise people fleeing violence as IDPs (TJ, 8 February 2014; Jakarta Post, 30 May 2013; RSC, September 2007, p.11).    

Collecting data on protracted displacement is complicated by the fact that many of the conflicts that have led to large-scale displacement took place up to 15 years ago and that information on the whereabouts and needs of IDPs, returnees and those who have resettled is often not available. This is the case for example for North Maluku, Central Sulawesi or Central Kalimantan where sizeable number of people displaced by conflict between 1998 and 2002 are likely to continue facing recovery challenges but where no reliable figures have been available since 2006 (Duncan, 4 October 2013; Jakarta Post, 12 November 2011).

A 2001 IDP policy adopted by the government in response to the 1998-2002 displacement crisis was accompanied by nationwide registration and data collection on the displaced, but these were stopped when the policy was discontinued in 2004.

Protection concerns

Protection concerns facing IDPs are most acute in Papua due to ongoing armed conflict. Fleeing counter-insurgency operations against OPM rebels, the displaced have had no or very limited access to humanitarian assistance or basic services while hiding in forests. They are believed to remain at risk of human rights violations as are other civilians suspected of supporting the rebels (FA, FBN and AHRC, November 2011, p.2).     

Elsewhere in in Indonesia IDPs are generally safe from attacks or immediate threats to life in the area where they sought refuge. In situations where ethnic or religious minorities fled inter-communal violence, they have usually come under the protection of the police and remained safe until return was possible, usually after mediation from local authorities. Local governments usually provide relief to the displaced including food, clean water and access to health care, at least as long as displacement does not last too long.   

Threats to life and freedom of movement

In Papua, there is little recent information on the protection risks faced by IDPs who have fled counter-insurgency operations against the OPM. It is believed that many remain at risk of human rights violations during their displacement but also after due to the lack of distinction made by security forces between civilians indigenous Papuans and OPM rebels (Chauvel, 2008, p. 170). Indonesian security forces also limited IDPs freedom of movement and were reported to have prevented return during military operations (RSC, September 2007, p.12; TJ, 3 November 2012). In November 2012, a local human rights NGO reported that some 38 IDPs in Keerom regency displaced by military operations had been living in the forest for five months moving from one place to another (TJ, 3 November 2012). Only when the IDPs agreed to sign written statements that they did not support the OPM did the security forces agree to guarantee their safety and allow them to return (ICP, June 2013, p. 52).   

Access to humanitarian assistance

Many Papuan IDPs who seek shelter in the jungle or mountains have struggled to survive, with no or very limited access to basic necessities such as food, drinking water, clothing, hous­ing and health care (ICP, 7 February 2014; ICP, June 2013, p.60; ABC, 6 December 2011). Over the years, hundreds of Papuan IDPs have reportedly died while in displacement as a result of starva­tion, lack of medical assistance to treat injuries or diseases (RNI, 15 December 2011; HRW, 5 July 2007, pp. 30-34; RSC, September 2007, p.10). Information on the consequences of prolonged displacement in the forests remains scarce due to limited humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas of Papua and West Papua provinces. 

Access to basic needs is less problematic for newly displaced people in other parts of Indonesia, although concerns remained in situations of prolonged displacement.  For example, in Sampang, East Java, members of a Shia community displaced by religious-motivated violence remained living in a sports centre between August 2012 and June 2013 with very limited access to food and water as well as basic social services such as health and education (AI, 26 August 2013). Government assistance was interrupted several times before coming to an end in May 2013, allegedly to force IDPs to accept relocation to a new housing facility in Sidoarjo (Indonesian NGO coalition, 28 June 2013, p. 65; AI, 15 January 2013). Following relocation in June 2013, access to livelihood opportunities and healthcare support had still not substantially improved (Jakarta Post, 24 January 2014).

Durable solutions

The overwhelming majority of Indonesia’s IDPs have long returned and rebuilt their homes with support from the government, neighbours or aid agencies.  Many returned in the weeks of the months following their displacement, while others awaited the signing of peace accords such as the December 2001 Malino Declaration, which ended the religious conflict in Central Sulawesi (Aragon, 2008, p.177). In provinces where no formal peace agreement has been reached, such as Central and West Kalimantan, or in West Timor, return has proved more difficult. Many IDPs from these areas have preferred to integrate locally where they had been displaced, or settle elsewhere in Indonesia (Bouvier & Smith, 2008, p.246).

Problems in re-establishing livelihoods, lack of access to land, weak tenure security and lack of compensation for lost property have posed obstacles for both those who have returned and those attempting to integrate locally or settle elsewhere.

Lack of access to land, housing and security of tenure

Access to land and adequate housing, including secure of tenure, is a major problem in Indonesia.  At its heart is the country’s land tenure system, described by the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as “complex, unresolved, inequitable and exclusionary” (OHCHR, 26 December 2013, p.12). The problem is compounded by overlapping land laws and government agencies’ mandates, lack of recognition of customary rights and the fact that 70 per cent of non-forest land has not been formally titled. Land registration is often a complex and costly process (OHCHR, 26 December 2013, p.13).

Poor IDPs often face significant challenges in acquiring formal land title due to costs linked to registration or a lack of documents. Often land is scarce and there is reluctance from the locals to let IDPs access their land and other natural resources (CARE, 6 May 2008, p.8). As a result they often have limited access to livelihood opportunities and adequate housing and also find themselves at increased risk of forced eviction.

In West Timor, most of the estimated 113,000 people who have chosen to locally integrate after their displacement in 1999 from what is now Timor-Leste live in sub-standard houses with inadequate facilities. They are generally poorer than the local population due to their lack of land and sustainable livelihoods and limited access to government services (UN-Habitat, October 2011). In early 2014, some 22,000 people continued to live in these camps, requiring livelihood and shelter assistance (Jakarta Post, 17 January 2014). Their lack of tenure security, exacerbated by land scarcity and tensions between IDPs and the host community, is a key obstacle to durable solutions (UN-Habitat, January 2014).

In other provinces of Indonesia, poverty and lack of land rights often combine to deprive IDPs of means or incentives to make durable improvements to their homes, making them also sometimes vulnerable to eviction. This is the case in Bitung, North Sulawesi, where in 2012 there were still seven IDP camps hosting approximately 4,000 people who had fled North Maluku in 1999 and never returned. Most are living in overcrowded conditions in abandoned army barracks and lack access to safe water and sanitation facilities. The shelters are of sub-standard quality, often made from discarded materials like corrugated iron or wooden sheeting. The lack of tenure security puts them at risk of eviction and discourages them from investing in home improvements (HFH, April 2012).

Inadequate compensation for lost and destroyed property

Eruptions of violence that have led to displacement have often been accompanied by significant destruction and looting of property. The government has seldom provided adequate compensation and access to government assistance has sometimes been hampered by a lack of personal documents, making recovery very difficult. 

In Papua prospects for durable solutions for IDPs are dimmed by the high level of human rights violations, destruction of property and the lack of assistance provided by the government, including compensation for lost property (HRW, July 2007, p.25). Since 2008, the government of Indonesia has encouraged displaced Papuans living on the border with Papua New Guinea to return to Papua, seeking to show that security conditions in the province are good and conducive to return. A number of Papuans, some displaced for nearly 25 years, have accepted to the government’s proposal and have made the journey home. Assistance promised by the government has included capital to start a business, a house and education for their children. In practice, government support has been minimal and the promised houses have not been provided (JRS, September 2013).     

Some 117 displaced Ahmadiyya in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, have been living since 2006 in overcrowded temporary accommodation with no regular access to clean water or electricity (AI, 8 July 2010). Promises of compensation by local authorities for houses and land left behind by the displaced have not materialised (Jakarta Post, 19 December 2011). Denied ID cards, the displaced have not been able to access government assistance programmes. After a visit in July 2013, the Indonesia Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) recommended the local government address the needs of the displaced and consider moving them to another place with adequate living conditions (Jakarta Post, 26 July 2013).

Access to Livelihoods and Employment

In addition to suffering from the economic impact of the destruction of their homes and property and debts incurred during their displacement, those who have settled elsewhere or integrated locally often face major recovery challenges. They struggle to adapt to new environments, often in urban areas, where they lack the skills needed to make a living (Mercy Corps, March 2013). Returnees, in particular those who returned to rural areas heavily affected by conflict, were not always better off as they needed to rebuild their homes and livelihoods often without any external assistance.   


In Maluku, a study conducted by Mercy Corps five years after the return of the displaced to their home or after their resettlement showed that the majority continued to have lower incomes than those who had not been displaced (Mercy Corps, 19 April 2010). IDPs still in camps in Ambon mainly engaged into petty trade to generate income but they often did not manage to turn these into sustainable livelihood strategies (Adam, March 2008, p.8). Many of those who relocated have ended up in areas with limited access to good farming land and far away from urban centres where economic opportunities are focused. Lack of job opportunities and shortage of land are commonly reported (IDMC mission, December 2007). Many returnees have been forced to take up low-paid employment rather than re-establishing their original livelihoods, leaving them with reduced income and social status (UNDP & Bappenas, December 2006, p.195).

Similarly in Aceh, post-conflict assessments have showed that the majority of returnees face significant recovery challenges (WB, March 2006, pp.60-69; EC, 15 December 2005, p.5). Many returned to destroyed houses and property and have been trapped in poverty because they failed to quickly restore their farming land, plantations or businesses and were forced to accept low-paid jobs to provide short-term support for their families (IOM, August 2008, p.xii). Those unable to return and to retrieve their farmland often had to change occupation and livelihood activities and shift to low-paid jobs such as daily labourer. As a result many had lower income and ended up living in poverty; an estimated 80 per cent of the displaced earned less than IDR 30,000 (USD 2.5) per day (IOM, August 2008, p.27). The most vulnerable have not been supported by social security nets that were either very weak or non-existent (MSR, December 2009, Annex 9). To address this gap, the 2009 World Bank-led Multi-Stakeholder Review of Post-Conflict Programming in Aceh (MSR) recommended the government do more to identify the most vulnerable, provide adequate social security and include them in training programmes (MSR, December 2009, Annex 9).

National response

The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) is responsible for people displaced both by disasters and “social conflicts”, while the Ministry of Social Affairs has the mandate to provide relief during emergencies (GOI, 2012, p.83; Cordaid, January 2012, p.7). Departments involved in addressing the long-term recovery needs of IDPs include the Coordinating Ministry of People Welfare, the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, the Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas) and the Ministry for Development of Disadvantaged Regions.

Government efforts to assist and protect the estimated 1.4 million people displaced by inter-communal violence between 1998 and 2002 were guided by the 2001 IDP policy which offered the displaced the options to return, locally integrate or settle elsewhere (GOI, September 2001 link). The policy was largely a tool to speed up resolution of Indonesia’s IDP problem, rather than a framework to ensure durable solutions for the displaced (Duncan, May 2003). IDPs received transportation and cash assistance, including a ‘termination fund’ in exchange for which they were required to relinquish their IDP status. When the policy was discontinued in 2004, there were still 342,000 IDPs spread over 12 provinces who had not yet received this assistance (NHRC, March 2005).  No longer considered as IDPs, but only as ‘vulnerable poor’, responsibility for addressing their needs was transferred to provincial and districts-level governments (SIDA, 2004, p.3).

In many provinces, post-conflict rehabilitation and recovery assistance was insufficient and has not reached all IDP groups. As of early 2014, tens of thousands of former IDPs in several provinces, including Maluku, North Maluku, South-East Sulawesi and West Timor continue to claim they have not received the assistance promised by the government. IDP associations in these provinces have asked authorities, both at the local and national level, to explain how the funds intended for IDP assistance and recovery were used and to ensure that those who have not received anything or insufficient amounts be properly compensated (House of Representatives, 26 September 2013; Tribune News, 23 August 2013; Jakarta Post, 21 May 2011).

The government has done little to assess the sustainability of return or progress towards other durable solutions. In most regions, the government has focused on restoring security, assisting the return of IDPs and rebuilding destroyed infrastructure. It has largely overlooked peace-building and transitional justice needs, including truth seeking, reparation and criminal prosecutions.

Addressing the needs of protracted-IDPs

Since 2010 efforts to address the rehabilitation and recovery needs of protracted IDPs have been led by provincial and districts-level authorities with support from international actors including the EU, international non-governmental organisation (INGOs) and the UN. This is in line with national development policies for the period 2010-2014 which identified post-conflict areas as priority development zones (GOI, 2010).

In early 2014, Bappenas held consultations with West Timor local authorities and international agencies assisting them to use their experience in working with protracted IDPs as input into the National Medium Term Development Plan (RPJMN) of 2015-2019 which is currently being developed (Jakarta Post, 16 January 2014). In March 2014, the president issued an instruction to relevant ministries to improve the handling of ”social conflicts” and continue efforts to address post-conflict needs, including those of the displaced. An action plan is to be elaborated to comprehensively address these needs, through measures that address the underlying causes of conflicts, support post-conflict recovery and prevent new conflicts (Jakarta Post, 10 March 2014).

It would be helpful if Bappenas broadened these consultations to other former conflict-affected provinces, such as Aceh and Maluku, but also to Papua and west Papua. This would enable, in order to assessment of the number and needs of protracted IDPs so as to inform the development of the RPJMN 2015-2019 and ensure that action plans and programmes adequately address IDPs’ needs. These efforts would also support the recent presidential initiative to improve the handling of social conflicts.

Based on its experience of assisting IDPs in West Timor, UN-Habitat has recommended that accessibility to land by displaced populations be improved through a land policy that recognises the diversity and legitimacy of diverse tenure situations and enables vulnerable groups, such as IDPs groups, to achieve tenure security through regularisation of the land they live on or resettlement. Local government should be able to define and implement policies tailored to their specific context and do this in close consultation with the local population, including IDPs. The agency has also called for better coordination between different agencies working on land issues and between national and local tiers of government (UN-Habitat, January 2014).    

National laws and policies

Indonesia is yet to adopt a national policy or law on internal displacement. National response is governed by a 2007 Law on Disaster Management and 2012 Law on the Handling of Social Conflict. The 2007 legislation that established the BNPB states that IDPs and communities affected by natural and human-made disaster are entitled to protection and the fulfilment of their rights at all stages of their displacement.  Law No.7/2012 on the Handling of Social Conflict granted local authorities powers to deal with social unrest and strengthened the military’s involvement in conflict resolution (Jakarta Post, 18 May 2012).

The 2012 law raised concerns because local authorities’ policies have, at times, tended to violate IDPs’ rights.  For example in Central Kalimantan the failure by the central government to adopt a clear return and reconciliation policy, together with absence of guidelines at the provincial level, meant that local authorities could impose their own conditions for the return of the 150,000 Madurese displaced in 2001. This included the condition to have a Dayak spouse, non-involvement in the conflict and being able to adapt to local culture (UNDP, 2005, p.62). More recently in East Java, the government has failed to protect the right to return of around 168 displaced Shia, leaving it to local authorities and clerics to dictate their conditions, including the need for Shia to convert to Sunni Islam (AI, 13 November 2013, Jakarta Post, 12 August 2013). A visit by the President Yudhoyono in December 2013 failed to resolve the matter (Jakarta Post, 12 April 2014).

The government should strengthen its legislative framework to ensure it adequately addresses the rights and needs of IDPs whether displaced by conflict, violence or natural disasters. Existing legal frameworks only partially address these rights as they do not clearly define who is an IDP and also do not effectively guarantee the right to return. IDP legislation should be in line with international standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, as recommended by members of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2007 (OHCHR, 15 August 2007, p.4).

International response

The international community provided significant financial and technical support to help the Indonesian government cope with the displacement crisis resulting from the widespread inter-communal violence in the early 2000s. From 2001 to 2004, international assistance reached a total of $81 million with most of the funds channelled through three successive UN appeals (SIDA, 2004, p.3). Following the 2004 tsunami that devastated Aceh and North Sumatra provinces, an estimated $7 billion was spent by the international community to assist with the reconstruction effort, largely contributing to a successful transition from conflict to peace (WB, 26 December 2012).   

Since 2005 international organisations have not longer been involved in responding to the humanitarian needs of people displaced by conflict and violence and their support to IDPs has shifted to recovery and development needs in post-conflict areas. These have mainly been addressed through community-level reintegration and development projects supported by the World Bank or UNDP which have aimed at improving livelihoods and economic opportunities for the most vulnerable, including IDPs. In 2012, UNDP launched a five-year Peace Through Development in Disadvantaged Areas (PTDDA) programme, aimed at helping local governments and communities in conflict and disaster-prone provinces increase their resilience to crisis (UNDP, 27 March 2012).

In 2013, with funding from the EU’s Aid to Uprooted People (AUP) programme, a number of INGOs continued to run projects to assist IDPs in Maluku, West Timor and Central Sulawesi (EU, 15 June 2010). In Maluku these targeted 6,000 households (approximately 30,000 individuals) including IDPs who had resettled or returned to their place of origin, host communities, representatives of civil society organisations and local, regency, and provincial civil servants.

In West Timor, the EU has continued in recent years to support the work of a number of NGOs, both local and international, and UN agencies to assist former IDPs improve access to land and tenure security, basic services and adequate shelter while also seeking to strengthen the capacity of the local authorities to address the outstanding needs of the displaced. Programmes in both Maluku and West Timor ended in late 2013. The decision was based on the fact that no major crises had caused large-scale displacement in recent years (EU, 2014)

As these programmes have now ended it is important to ensure that the needs of protracted IDPs, in particular those related to access to land and tenure security, are mainstreamed into local and national development initiatives, including the PTDDA programme. Effective solutions for IDPs still living in protracted displacement will require the government and the international development community to work together to integrate their outstanding needs into national strategies and plans.