Editorial: Bring ‘em home soon
We have been watching with increasing anger as political upheavals in Syria — basically a fight over the nation’s leadership — have killed more than 13,000 people and led to the imprisonment of thousands more over the past 15 months since civil unrest began in the Middle East country.
The violence and the reporting on the violence by the international media has been so intense that we have missed the fact that there are over 12,000 Indonesians, mostly migrant workers, employed in Syria. What worries us is the fact that many — if not the majority — of the Indonesians have been trapped in conflict zones. It has been fortunate that no Indonesians have become victims in the prolonged violence.
It was good to hear verbal assurances from Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar on Tuesday that the government would bring all the Indonesian migrant workers in Syria home. The questions are now how quick and how effective will the evacuation be. The clock continues to tick, and it looks unlikely that the armed conflict will end anytime soon.
It is true that the evacuation has begun, although only 202 Indonesians have been sent home as of June 10. But, we are still in the dark of the fate of thousands more.
The Manpower and Transmigration Ministry has limited data on the Indonesians trapped in five conflict zones: 11 are thought to be in Dar’a, 17 in Idleb, 86 in Hama, 405 in Homs and 426 in Rif Dimasq.
It has yet to obtain the information on the Indonesians working in conflict zones in Damascus, Aleppo, Lattakia, Tartus, Raqqah, Deir Ez Zour, Sweida, Al Hasakah and Quneitra.
The ministry has indicated that one of the obstacles hindering the evacuation process is the fact that many of the Indonesian workers in Syria are illegal and undocumented.
There is also a technical problem that has prevented the immediate evacuation of the workers: Most of the Indonesian migrant workers do not have their passports with them as their travel documents were given to employers as part of their employment contracts.
Still, the two problems do not give the government an excuse for not attempting an immediate and massive evacuation of the Indonesian workers from Syria.
The Indonesian government — the Foreign Ministry and the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry — can negotiate with the Syrian government for the release of the Indonesian workers on the grounds that what has happened in Syria meets the criteria of force majeure, a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, a strike, a riot, crime, or an event described in legal terms as an act of God, such as hurricane, flooding, earthquake or volcanic eruption, for example.
The abundance of Indonesians working abroad is primarily caused by the government’s inability to provide them jobs at home. In return, in times of extraordinary events like the ongoing conflict in Syria, the government at least must be responsible for ensuring their safety – and immediately bring them home safely.