There are signs of an influx of West Papuans into Papua New Guinea amid a protracted conflict across the border.
Since 2018, there’s been a surge of violent exchanges between the West Papua Liberation Army and Indonesian security forces in Papua province.
Thousands of West Papuans have been displaced from the conflict’s epicentre in the Highlands regency of Nduga in the Indonesian-ruled province.
Some of the displaced have fled across the border to PNG’s West Sepik province, according to Vanimo landowner Dorothy Tekwie.
“The numbers in the camps on the PNG side have increased,” Ms Tekwie said.
“On my own particular land the number of young people, young men I’ve never seen before… there is an influx of people coming in, and they feel they are able to slide back in again.”
The main international border entry point at Wutung near Vanimo remains tightly guarded by Indonesian military forces. So too now are access points in Nduga and neighbouring Jayawija regency where many of the estimated 45,000 displaced Ndugans fled to last year when conflict intensified.
However, West Papuans are generally adept at moving and living in jungle, and across mountainous terrain. Long treks are made towards the international border, much of which is too porous for either Indonesia or PNG’s security forces to comprehensively monitor.
Some Papuans who slip across the border further inland end up along the north coast in Vanimo, where Ms Tekwie’s village is located, less than an hour’s drive from Wutung.
“I don’t know how they get through, but these are mountain people, they walk and live off the land; they know how to hunt; so if it’s getting too much on the other side, they just move over here,” she said.
“After all, this is just one island. There is no brick or cement border mark fencing from one end to another, it’s just open forest.”
West Papuans who end up in villages on the PNG side are generally able to blend in easily, being fellow Melanesians. However, those who are not registered as traditional border crossers, and therefore able to travel back and forth by law, are at risk of detection by Indonesian or PNG security forces.
“I try to control who is on the land because I don’t want people to get into trouble and cause trouble for me and other clan members.
“So, I try to know who is moving in and out of my place, but there are so many young men there that I don’t know who they are.”
Ms Tekwie said that West Papuans from the Highlands region were determined to resist Indonesian rule.