Distributive policy

Revisiting government-backed migration policy | Eurek alert!

Transmigration programs are known to have moved millions of people from the centers of national economies to national geographic peripheries to support a more equitable distribution of resources. The practice is important to the nation-building process in many developing countries, including Indonesia, which dates back to the Dutch colonization programs of 1905 before independence. Transmigration programs seek to resolve uneven national development in the country’s peripheries while unifying the country’s diverse ethnic groups.

However, Indonesian transmigration programs have been criticized for pushing for a national integration policy driven by the interests of the ethnic majority. A group of international researchers, made up of researchers from the University of Turku, the University of Sydney and the University of Western Australia, conducted a study to revisit communities hosting transmigrants decades after their resettlement. The research assesses the structures of knowledge networks in the farming communities where these migrants are embedded.

Research, recently published by the Journal of Rural Studies, found a salient change in population composition in host communities. The descendants of transmigrants seem to dominate and become very influential actors in the knowledge networks of the host community. They benefit from strong cultural ties with the central regions of the country and, having been born there, they have strong roots in local communities.

“It takes a generation to fit well into their adopted communities,” says lead author of research paper, postdoctoral researcher Ayu Pratiwi from the University of Turku.

An involuntary colonization of its people by the government?

However, due to the significant macroeconomic shift towards increasing export commodities, the government is known to push for centralized agricultural production methods. The system, which is more familiar to ethnic majority government officials, appears to benefit transmigrants from the same ethnic group. This (inadvertently) strengthened their position in the communities into which they were adopted.

“Indigenous communities are now positioned on the margins of their local knowledge system. The resettlement of transmigrants in peripheral regions would have threatened the political power of indigenous communities. They were potentially excluded from checkpoints over authority, resources and land,” says Dr. Kirsten Martinusassociate professor at the University of Western Australia.

The Indonesian government is currently in the spotlight over its proposal to move the capital to the largest island of Borneo, a biodiversity hotspot and home to the world’s second largest tropical rainforest. The mobilization of thousands of government employees could change the demographics of host communities around the newly built capital. Long after transmigration programs have ended, the marginalization of local communities may continue.

“The capital’s relocation strategy must take into account and accommodate the local indigenous population in light of the lessons learned from the experiences of the transmigration program decades ago,” concludes Dr. Petr Matousassociate professor at the University of Sydney.


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