Government faces challenges
in protecting migrants

False documents, irregular placement and the absence of legal protections are among the challenges facing foreign diplomats in their efforts to protect Indonesian migrants, the foreign minister said.

The Indonesian government has come under pressure to prevent recurring migrant abuse, after the latest case of female migrant worker Sumiati in Saudi Arabia.

Some legislators are mulling temporarily halting the sending of migrants to Saudi Arabia until both governments establish a protection deal. The Foreign Ministry estimates there are approximately 641,000 Indonesian migrants working in Saudi Arabia, but the actual number is believed to be higher.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said on Tuesday that the government was looking to negotiate a protection agreement with Saudi Arabia.

Indonesia has already signed agreements with Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, but Marty said the deals do not always guarantee immediate protection.

A number of migrants in Malaysia have returned home with serious abuse complaints, which forced the government to adopt a moratorium on sending migrants there until the prevailing legal protection deal was renegotiated.

In contrast, despite the absence of a bilateral deal with Indonesia, migrants working in Hong Kong are relatively safe from abuse because Hong Kong has national protection regulation for all laborers, including migrants.

Marty said his ministry has stepped up efforts to mitigate abuse, including establishing hotlines for migrants, but he said all involved parties needed to work together to tackle problems originating in the home country.

Migrants’ ages are often faked in order to be eligible to work overseas, and sometimes migrant laborers were placed or transferred to countries other than the country agreed upon.

Marty said migrant protection was difficult when diplomats could not even trace where migrant workers were because there was not the proper documentation.

“The Foreign Ministry has prepared several steps to allow our migrants to communicate better with our representatives overseas, and we will not wait until another problem arises to communicate with our migrants.”

Approximately 3.2 million Indonesians are working overseas, but the actual number is believed to be higher as not all migrants reported their presence overseas, the Foreign Ministry said. Migrant workers are concentrated in Malaysia and the Middle East.

As of this year, the ministry has received 4,535 migrant complaint reports, with 2,716 completed and the rest being processed. The cases vary from employer violations of contract terms to sexual abuse cases.

An official from an agency that sends migrants overseas, Syisferi Datuk Gonjong, said aside from negotiating migrant protection plans with destination countries, migrant protection should start by preparing migrants to work under new conditions.

Syisferi said caregivers sent to Japan to work were one successful example of Indonesian migrants working abroad.

“We have to send migrants who have specific skills,” he said.

Jobs for Indonesian caregivers in Japan were made available as part of the Japan-Indonesia Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2008.

“We have also heard many success stories from those working in Hong Kong because the local government is strict about protecting migrants. Employers have to allow one day off a week for our migrants or they have to pay overtime. We don’t see such national regulations in other countries,” he said.

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