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Transmigration -- help or hindrance?

In this story:

The "ideal" life

Dissatisfied locals


JAKARTA, Indonesia -- More than half of Indonesia's population of 210 million live on the islands of Java, Madura, Bali and Lombok.

To solve the problem of overcrowding in some areas and to homogenize the population, former president Suharto launched an aggressive transmigration program.

People from overcrowded areas were encouraged to move to less populated areas in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Irian Jaya.

Transmigration is not a new concept. In 1905 the Dutch colonial ruler launched the so-called "colonization" program by moving 155 families from Java to Sumatra.

First president Sukarno continued the program, using the term "transmigration." In December 1950, 23 families left Java for Lampung, southern Sumatra, as the first transmigrants after independence.

It was not until the 1970s, during Suharto's reign, that the transmigration program was launched in full force. The government poured huge amounts of money into the program, seen as a way to solve the problems of population and economic imbalance in the country.

The "ideal" life

Millions of people, lured with the prospect of owning their own land, left their homes in pursuit of a better life. In the late 1980s, Indonesian state television aired a weekly drama series, depicting the ideal life of a fictional transmigrant village.

An average of one million people joined the program every year, either financed by themselves or by government.

Central Kalimantan was one of the top destinations. Nearly a quarter of its population is now transmigrants. Sumatran provinces like Jambi and South Sumatra, Southeast Sulawesi and Irian Jaya followed to make up the top five.

Some migrant communities have prospered, but others were unlucky. A number of farmers in Central Kalimantan had to live on the government's subsidy because their land was unsuitable for farming.

Transmigration advocates say the program has benefited the destination areas. "Places [such as Bengkulu, Lampung and South Kalimantan] have developed into food-producing areas and [the transmigration] has opened the isolation of some places," ex-minister of transmigration Siswono Yudhohusodo said.

Dissatisfied locals

However, it is not uncommon for locals to feel marginalized with the arrival of new migrants and consequently resort to violence. In Irian Jaya, the indigenous Papuans kidnapped migrants in retaliation for their land being taken away.

In other restive provinces, such as Aceh and previously in East Timor, migrants from Java often bear the brunt of dissatisfaction of the locals who see them as the face of the oppressive central government.

Amidst mounting criticism, President Abdurrahman Wahid last year stopped the controversial inter-island transmigration program. However, it remains to be seen what can be done to avoid further conflicts between the existing migrants and the indigenous population.

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