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The transmigration program (Indonesian: Transmigrasi, from Dutch, transmigratie) was an initiative of the Dutch colonial government, and later continued by the Indonesian government to move landless people from densely populated areas of Indonesia to less populous areas of the country.[1] This involved moving people permanently from the island of Java, but also to a lesser extent from Bali and Madura, to less densely populated areas including Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Papua (ended in 2015 by president Joko Widodo). The stated purpose of this program was to reduce the considerable poverty and overpopulation on Java, to provide opportunities for hard-working poor people, and to provide a workforce to better utilize the natural resources of the outer islands. The program, however, has been controversial as fears from native populations of "Javanization" and "Islamization" have strengthened separatist movements and communal violence.[2] The incomers are Madurese and Javanese.[3]


Under the Dutch

Javanese contract workers in plantation in Sumatra during colonial period, cirica 1925.

The policy was first initiated by the Dutch colonial government in the early nineteenth century to reduce crowding and to provide a workforce for plantations on Sumatra. The program diminished during the last years of the Dutch era (1940s) but was revived following Indonesian independence, in an attempt to alleviate the food shortages and weak economic performance during Sukarno's presidency in the two decades following World War II.

In the peak year, 1929 in the Sumatra's east coast more than 260,000 contract workers were brought, 235,000 of them from Java. Workers entered into a contract as coolie; if a worker asked for the termination of the contract in the company ('desertion'), he could be punished with hard labor. The mortality was very high among the coolies and abuse was common.


1995 ABC news report on the impact of transmigration on the Dani people in Papua

After independence in 1949, under President Sukarno, the program continued and was expanded to send migrants to more areas of the archipelago such as Papua. At its peak between 1979 and 1984, 535,000 families (almost 2.5 million people) moved under the transmigration program. It had a major impact on the demographics of some regions; for example, in 1981 sixty percent of the 3 million people in the southern Sumatra province of Lampung were transmigrants. During the 1980s, the program was funded by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank as well as by many Western governments who appreciated Suharto's anti-communist politics.[4] However, as a result of the 1979 energy crisis and increased transportation costs, the budget and plans for transmigration were severely reduced.[2]

In August 2000, after the Asian financial crisis and the fall of the Suharto regime, the Indonesian government again reduced the scale of the transmigration program, due to a lack of funds.

Under the restructured Department of Manpower and Transmigration (Indonesian: Departemen Tenaga Kerja dan Transmigrasi) the Indonesian government maintains the transmigration program, although on a far smaller scale than in previous decades. The department assists in annually relocating approximately 15,000 families, or nearly 60,000 people. The rate has shown gradual increases in recent years with funding for transmigration activities at $270 million (2.3 trillion IDR) and a target of relocating 20,500 families in 2006. The program has recently been abolished in 2015 by the new president Joko Widodo. [5]


The stated purpose of the program, according to proponents in the Indonesian government and the development community, was to move millions of Indonesians from the densely populated inner islands of Java, Bali and Madura to the outer, less densely populated islands to achieve a more balanced population density. This would alleviate poverty by providing land and new opportunities to generate income for poor landless settlers. It would also benefit the nation as a whole by increasing the utilization of the natural resources of the less-populous islands. The program may have been intended to encourage the unification of the country through the creation of a single Indonesian national identity to augment or replace regional identities. The official position of the Indonesian government is that there is no separation of "indigenous people" and settlers in Indonesia, because Indonesia is a country "of indigenous people, run and governed by and for indigenous people". It argues instead for the use of "vulnerable population groups" which can include both tribal groups and the urban poor.[6]



In many examples, the program failed in its objective to improve the situation of the migrants. The soil and climate of their new locations were generally not nearly as productive as the volcanic soil of Java and Bali. The settlers were often landless people lacking in farming skills, let alone skills appropriate to the new land, thus compromising their own chances of success.[7]


Transmigration has also been blamed for accelerating the deforestation of sensitive rainforest areas, as formerly sparsely-populated areas experienced great increases in population. Migrants were often moved to entirely new "transmigration villages," constructed in regions that had been relatively unimpacted by human activity. By settling on this land, natural resources were used up and the lands became overgrazed, resulting in deforestation.

Social and political

The program has resulted in communal clashes between ethnic groups that have come into contact through transmigration. For example, in 1999 the local Dayaks and Malays clashed against the transmigrant Madurese during the Sambas riots and the Dayaks and Madurese clashed again in 2001 during the Sampit conflict, resulting in thousands of deaths and thousands of Madurese being displaced. Transmigration is controversial in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, where the majority of the population is Christian. Some Papuans accuse the government of Islamisasi, or Islamisation through transmigration.[8]


Transmigration from Java and Madura have resulted in large numbers of the population elsewhere, particularly in Sumatra, Borneo, and Papua. Based on 2010 census figures and ethnic prevalence, roughly 4.3 million transmigrants and their descendants live in North Sumatra, 200 thousand in West Sumatra, 1.4 million in Riau, almost a million in Jambi, 2.2 million in South Sumatra, 0.4 million in Bengkulu, 5.7 million in Lampung, 100 thousand in Bangka-Belitung, almost 400 thousand in Riau Islands, totaling some 15.5 million in Sumatra alone. In Kalimantan there are some 700 thousand transmigrants and their descendants in West Kalimantan, 400 thousand in Central Kalimantan, almost 500 thousand in South Kalimantan, and over a million in East Kalimantan, totaling 2.6 million for the whole area.[] Though numbers are a state secret, well over a million transmigrants are thought to reside in Papua and West Papua. Total Javanese and other transmigrants in Indonesia number roughly 20 million throughout the country.[]

Transmigrant are not exclusively ethnic Javanese and/or Muslims. For example, in 1994 when East Timor was still part of Indonesia, the largest transmigrant group was Hindu Balinese (1,634 people) followed by Catholic Javanese (1,212 people).[9]


Indigenous peoples saw the program as a part of an effort by the Java-based Indonesian Government to extend greater economic and political control over other regions, by moving in people with closer ties to Java and loyalty to the Indonesian state.[] The government agencies responsible for administering transmigration were often accused of being insensitive to local customary or adat land rights. This was especially true on Borneo with the Dayak population.

The environmental damage associated with these projects was caused less by ignorance than by inattention, poor follow-up, and lack of accountability during project implementation. Many environmental issues were identified at project appraisal: the potential for soil erosion, possibility of declining soil fertility, need for protection against pests and disease, possible adverse effects on wildlife and deforestation, impact on indigenous people, and the need to strengthen the borrower's capacity for managing natural resources. But often, the audits found, the proposed mitigatory measures were unrealistic or were insufficiently monitored by the government. [10]


In the provinces of Papua and West Papua the program has resulted in the Melanesian population totaling less than the population of non-Melanesian (principally Austronesian) origin. According to Papuan independence activists, the Melanesians have lived on the island of New Guinea for an estimated 50,000 years.[11] The Papuans have been outnumbered in less than 50 years by Indonesian Muslims mostly from Java.[12] They criticise the program as part of "an attempt to wipe out the West Papuans in a slow-motion genocide".[13] There is open conflict between migrants, the state, and indigenous groups due to differences in culture--particularly in administration, and cultural topics such as nudity, food and sex. Religion is also a problem as West Papuans are predominantly Christian or hold traditional tribal beliefs while the Indonesian settlers are Muslim. Indonesia has taken West Papuan children and sent them to Islamic religious schools.[14] West Papuans have fled across the border to Papua New Guinea (PNG) where as of January 2013 about 8,000 refugees were stranded.[15]

The recorded population growth rates in Papua are exceptionally high due to migration.

Detractors[who?] of the program argue that considerable resources have been wasted in settling people who have not been able to move beyond subsistence level, with extensive damage to the environment and deracination of tribal people. However, very large scale American and Anglo-Australian strip mining contracts have been developed on the island (as well as other Indonesian islands).

Neighbouring power Australia has ignored or silenced the voices of Papuan independence activists in Australia out of concern for harming Australia-Indonesia relations.[16] In March 2006 Indonesia recalled its ambassador to Australia for granting refugee visas to 42 West Papuans who fled in dugout canoes.[17] Normal diplomatic relations did not resume until Australia signed the Lombok treaty[18] eight months later to muzzle independence movements in Australia.[19] Australia has continued to silence West Papuans with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying Australia will not "give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia".[20] Australia has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Papua New Guinea to enable West Papuans fleeing to Australia to be sent to Papua New Guinea.[21]

The transmigration program in Papua was formally ended by Indonesian president Joko Widodo in June 2015.[22]

See also



  • Hardjono, J. 1989. The Indonesian transmigration program in historical perspective. International migration 26:427-439.
  • Hollie, Pamela. 1981. Jakarta fights overcrowding Bali and Java. The New York Times January 11.
  • Rigg, Jonathan. 1991. Land settlement in Southeast Asia: the Indonesian transmigration program. In: Southeast Asia: a region in transition. London: Unwin Hyman. 80-108.
  • MacAndrews, Colin. 1978. Transmigration in Indonesia: prospects and problems. Asian Survey 18(5):458-472.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Anata, Aris (2003). The Indonesian Crisis: A Human Development Perspective. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. pp. 229-230.
  3. ^ Magdalena, Federico V. "Islam and the Politics of Identity". University of Hawai'i at Mano?. Center for Philippine Studies. Retrieved 2015.
  4. ^ Goldman, Michael (2006). Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization. Yale University Press. p. 299.
  5. ^ Almubarok I, Zaky (16 May 2006). "Ditargetkan Transmigrasi 20.500 Keluarga (Target of 25,000 Families set for Transmigration)". Berita Ketransmigration (Transmigration News) (in Indonesian). Departeman Tenaga Kerja dan Transmigrasi (Department of Manpower and Transmigration). Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
  6. ^ Ellen, Roy; Parkes, Peter; Bicker, Alan (2000). Indigenous Environmental Knowledge and its Transformations: Critical Anthropoligical Perspectives. Psychology Press. pp. 121-122.
  7. ^ Max Sijabat, Ridwan (23 March 2007). "Unemployment still blighting the Indonesian landscape". The Jakarta Post. Archived from the original on 1 May 2007.
  8. ^ Farhadian, Charles E. (2005). Christianity, Islam, and Nationalism in Indonesia. Taylor & Francis. p. 63.
  9. ^ Tirtosudarmo, Riwanto (2007), Mencari Indonesia: demografi-politik pasca-Soeharto, Yayasan Obor Indonesia, ISBN 9789797990831
  10. ^ "Transmigration in Indonesia".
  11. ^ Saltford, J; The United Nations and the Indonesian Takeover of West Papua, 1962-1969, Routledge Curzon, p.3, p.150
  12. ^ Transmigration in Indonesia: Lessons from Its Environmental and Social Impacts, Philip M Fearnside, Department of Ecology, National Institute for Research in the Amazon, 1997, Springer-Verlag New York Inc. Accessed online 17 November 2014
  13. ^
  14. ^ They're taking our children: West Papua's youth are being removed to Islamic religious schools in Java for "re-education", Michael Bachelard, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 2013, accessed 17 November 2014
  15. ^ UN High Commission for Refugees website. Accessed 17 November 2014
  16. ^ Menetrey, T, PNG Section, Department of Foreign Affairs in Transmigration - Australia's Policy, 19 November 1984, National Archives; also Cabinet Minute no. 9702, 11 August 1987, Submission no. 4956 Papua New Guinea Proposals on Australia/Papua New Guinea Relations, National Archives of Australia
  17. ^ Jakarta: Say sorry or no ambassador, Sydney Morning Herald, April 19, 2006
  18. ^ Lombok Treaty, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  19. ^ Australia, Indonesia sign security pact, ABC radio transcript of AM broadcast 14 November 2006, retrieved 17 November 2014
  20. ^ Abbott attacks "grandstanding" against Indonesia by protesters, ABC Radio Australia, broadcast 8 October 2013, transcript retrieved 17 November 2014
  21. ^ Taylor, S, The impact of Australian-Papua New Guinea border management co-operation on refugee protection; Local-Global Journal, volume 8, 2010, RMIT University, Accessed 17 November 2014.
  22. ^

External links

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