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Strife of the soil? Unsettling transmigrant conflicts in Indonesia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 January 2015


Challenging conventional wisdom, this article argues that Indonesia — long home to both large-scale transmigration programmes and a range of conflicts — has not witnessed transmigrant conflicts. The vast majority of Indonesian transmigrants were resettled in parts of Sumatra which have remained peaceful. In some conflicts, the role of transmigration has been exaggerated. In others, interethnic violence has involved spontaneous migrants rather than state-led transmigrants. We conclude with a discussion of two potential outliers, where violence has been directed towards transmigrants, but only those from disaster-affected regions who arrived en masse. This article argues for a more nuanced understanding of the distinctions between different forms of internal migration, some of which have the potential to spark future violence in recipient areas and communities.

Research Article
Copyright © The National University of Singapore 2015 

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Fieldwork by Isabelle Côté was conducted in Lampung, Riau, Kepri, and Jakarta from October 2010 to February 2011. It entailed informal and unstructured interviews, conversations, participant observation and general living experience within households. A total of 108 people were interviewed, including 52 elites (e.g. government officials, NGO workers, local scholars), 37 local people (e.g. pensioners, farmers, students), and 19 migrants (both spontaneous and transmigrants).

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119 Interview, Sugiarto Sumas, Director of Community Participation, Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, Jakarta, 1 Feb. 2011.