West Papuans not yet a minority in homeland

New statistics on the ethnic composition of Indonesia's Papua region indicate that the indigenous West Papuans are not yet the minority there.

This is despite research following the 2010 national census which extrapolated that Papuans made up around 48 percent of the entire population as the growth of the non-Papuan population soared.

The Indonesian Statistics Office has recently produced an ethnic breakdown of the 40 regencies which make up the provinces of Papua and West Papua, based on the 2010 census.

The stats show that of Papua region's total population of 3.6 million, around 66 percent is made up of Papuans.

But the percentage of Papuans as a proportion of the population has fallen catastrophically in some regions, particularly around urban centres.

The convenor of the West Papua project at the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University, Jim Elmslie, said this pattern hadn't really happened in the Highlands where Papuans still make up the vast majority.

"Even though there's huge developments all across the country that will threaten them, and bring in more settlers and bring in development. And all of those things are drivers of conflict, both between the state - in the form of the police and the military - and Papuan nationalists; and also within areas where there are populations (of Papuans and non-Papuans) who are in effect competing for land."

Dr Elmslie said it could be considered a positive for the indigenous Melanesians of this vast region that in the Highlands especially, they are "not on the verge of disappearing under the weight of inward migration".
"Some people seem to feel that the general conflict in West Papua would disappear over time as the Papuan population became a minority. Well that's obviously not going to happen. That is happening in the lowlands, but it's not going to happen anytime soon in the Highlands."

The regencies where the non-Papuan population is concentrated tend to be the centres of power and the richest areas where access to health and education services is best.

Furthermore, the population growth rate of non-Papuans in Papua region is significantly higher than that of Papuans, and based on this trend, the minoritisation of the Papuan population will continue.

Dr Elmslie's new paper confirms that the proportion of Papuan people as a percentage of the entire population continues to decline, which his previous research since 2006 already found.

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