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Paper details West Papua’s cry for freedom

International

The repression of indigenous West Papuans and their 50-year fight for justice is the subject of the latest publication from the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC).

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Into the Deep: Seeking justice for the people of West Papua is Peter Arndt’s recount of his personal experience meeting West Papuans in their homes and villages, and the importance of faith and solidarity in their struggle for justice.

Mr Arndt is the executive officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Brisbane and has spent the past three years travelling to West Papua and the Pacific as part of his commitment to deepening solidarity with marginalised and oppressed people.

In the publication he describes meeting West Papuan people, hearing their stories, and asking how he should respond as a Christian to their pain.

“The vast majority of Papuans are Christians and their faith sustains them in their resistance to Indonesian occupation,” Mr Arndt said.

“Until I started to walk with Papuans, I didn’t really understand the meaning of solidarity. Solidarity, in the way Jesus exemplified it, is a radical commitment to others that even entails the possibility of losing one’s life.”

Mr Arndt said many public acts of resistance in West Papua take the form of prayer gatherings, and their faith is often mocked and denigrated by the authorities.

In Adelaide late last year, Mr Arndt addressed a public forum where he described the situation in West Papua as a “silent genocide” and believed the province was at a “tipping point”.

Besides ongoing human rights abuses, Mr Arndt said the influx of Indonesian migrants – mainly from Java – was having a huge impact.

“They are turning Papua into something that is very, very different culturally, socially and economically from what Papuans believe is their traditional way,” he told the forum.

“There is growing conflict between groups of Indonesian migrants and Papuans, from the youth to older people fighting with each other and the militias that are developing to pressure the local Papuans.

“Underlying all of this – the violence, economic marginalisation – is deep, deep racism.”

The ACSJC is the justice and peace agency of the Australian Catholic Bishops and its chairman, Bishop Vincent Long, said anyone reading Mr Arndt’s account of the suffering of the indigenous people of West Papua would be “deeply moved”.

“He shows how he has come to understand their indomitable desire for self-determination and to recognise how the Gospel calls him to walk beside his friends on their journey,” Bishop Long said.

“Peter places his friends’ experiences in the context of the Scriptures and looks deeply into the Church’s teachings on justice, asking what he must do. He discerns the answer with clarity and courage.

“I commend this paper to everybody who wishes to know more about the needs of our neighbours in this region, and to everybody who hears the cry of the poor.”

Into the Deep: Seeking justice for the people of West Papua (Social Justice Series Paper No 82) is available for $7.50 from the ACSJC.

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