Development environment

31 December 2013 |

Indonesia: Internal displacement in brief

As of December 2013


There is no reliable figure for the number of IDPs in Indonesia, but based on information from government agencies, international NGOs and civil society organisations, it was estimated that there were 90,000 IDPs as of the end of 2013. Most fled widespread communal violence and conflict between 1999 and 2004. Others were displaced in 2012 and 2013 by religiously motivated attacks and land conflicts, both of which increased during the year. Armed conflict in eastern Papua province also caused new displacement.

Accurate data on internal displacement is unavailable because no profiling exercise to establish the number and needs of people living in protracted displacement has been carried out. Humanitarian agencies’ restricted access to affected areas in Papua has also hampered the gathering of information.

At least 12,000 people displaced by communal violence between 1999 and 2004 still live in informal settlements on the islands of Ambon and Seram in Maluku province, west of Papua.  They face a number of obstacles to achieving durable solutions, including poor housing conditions, and a lack of access to land and property rights, basic services and livelihood opportunities. Over 4,700 households displaced from Timor-Leste nearly 14 years ago have been considered “new citizens” in West Timor since 2003, but still face similar challenges. Other provinces believed to host significant numbers of protracted IDPs include Aceh, South-East Sulawesi and North Sulawesi. 

Around 3,000 people were newly displaced in 2013, according to the government. Most fled an outbreak of violence in January that temporarily displaced around 2,000 Balinese settlers in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) province, east of Bali. In neighbouring East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province, more than 130 homes were burned down and nearly 1,000 people displaced in November by fighting between two villages triggered by a land dispute.

The low-level conflict between the government and the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) displaced an unknown number of people in the province. The killing of eight soldiers by suspected OPM members in February prompted military operations in the Central Highlands region. The security forces targeted villages suspected of supporting the OPM, reportedly displacing several thousand people, most of whom sought refuge in nearby forests. 

A decision by Indonesian courts in May to strengthen customary land rights of local and indigenous communities had still to be effectively implemented. As in previous years, indigenous groups continued to be exposed to forced eviction and displacement. In December, government security forces and private guards working for a palm oil company destroyed around 150 homes in Jambi and evicted at least 70 people from their ancestral land.

The government has failed to effectively protect and assist religious minorities and indigenous groups during their displacement or to guarantee their right to return. In East Java, 168 Shia Muslim IDPs were still unable to return nearly 18 months after being displaced. After living in a sports centre in Sampang district for nearly a year, they were forcibly relocated to a housing facility in June. Local clerics insist they convert to Sunni Islam before being allowed to return to their homes. 

The National Disaster Management Agency is responsible for people displaced both by natural disasters and “social conflicts”, while the Ministry of Social Affairs has the mandate for relief during emergencies. There is no national policy or legislation on internal displacement, leaving the national response governed by a 2007 law on disaster management and 2012 law on the handling of social conflicts. The latter granted local authorities powers to deal with social unrest and strengthened the military’s involvement in conflict resolution. This has raised concerns because the government has at times failed in recent years to guarantee IDPs’ rights, particularly in terms of return and property protection. Instead it has tended to leave local authorities to shape their own policies, even when these clearly violate IDPs’ rights.    

International organisations were not involved in responding to the humanitarian needs of people displaced by conflict and violence. Support was limited to helping the government assist some protracted IDPs. In late 2013, a number of EU-funded programmes implemented by international NGOs came to end. The decision was based on the fact that no major crises had caused large-scale displacement in the recent years and that many former IDPs had now successfully reintegrated. Effective solutions for IDPs still living in protracted displacement will require the government and the international development community to integrate their outstanding needs into national strategies and plans.