The Jakarta Post
A riot erupted at the Indonesian consulate general in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, following a stampede of hundreds of Indonesian migrant workers, mostly illegal, who were lining up to get exit visas.
The riot, which killed a female migrant worker from East Java, has tarnished the credibility of the Indonesian government, which failed to respond to the Saudi authority's decision to grant amnesty to illegal foreign workers.
Presidential spokesman for foreign affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, blamed the workers, whom he said had refused to queue in an orderly manner and instead made provocative gestures to consulate staff.
'We regret the unruly manners of Indonesian workers, who were queuing up at the consulate general. Their provocative actions led to violence, which should not have happened,' Faizasyah said on Monday.
The Saudi government launched an amnesty policy in May, which allowed overstayed workers to leave the oil-rich nation without punishment.
Thousands of overstaying Indonesians were quick to use the policy to return to Indonesia and applied for travel documents in lieu of passports (SPLP) required to exit the country.
Recently, the number of people going to Indonesia's Embassy and consulate for the documents has significantly increased as the deadline for the amnesty of July 3 gets closer.
Faizasyah, however, denied that Indonesian officials in Saudi Arabia should take the blame for failing to anticipate the stream of applicants.
'We have formed a special team to handle the matter since the launch of the amnesty program. That is why we managed to issue 48,260 exit documents as of Sunday,' he said.
He said that local consulate staff in Jeddah had worked overtime to process the documents of migrant workers. 'Our employees at the consulate general have been working 24 hours a day. The registration for applications is open from 5.30 a.m. to about 3 p.m. After that, the officials process the applications until the issuance of the documents. The government has been working 100 percent to facilitate the overstayed workers.'
On Saturday, more than 12,000 Indonesian workers arrived at the consulate to apply for exit visas while the Jeddah consulate building could only handle about 5,000 workers per day, Faizasyah said.
A press release issued by the Indonesian consulate general in Jeddah stated that the office eventually accepted 5,931 applications on Saturday. 'Some of the remaining workers expressed their disappointment by staging protests but the situation at that time could be controlled,' the release said.
Some of the workers stayed overnight and were joined by thousands more arriving on Sunday, which led to a stampede shortly after the consulate's door was opened.
The situation was quick to turn ugly, particularly after some workers set fire to the building's outer wall and briefly clashed with security forces, as reported by Reuters. The Saudi diplomatic police deployed 30 personnel to handle the situation by closing the entrance to the consulate compound and suspending
An Indonesian female worker, identified as Marwah binti Hasan, 55, from Bangkalan, East Java, died during the riot, according to Tatang Budie Utama Razak, the Foreign Ministry's director for legal aid and protection of Indonesian nationals overseas. Hundreds of others passed out. A security guard working for the consulate general was hospitalized due to severe injuries, following clashes with the protesters, according to Faizasyah.
Over recent weeks, in daytime temperatures of 40 degrees centigrade, many workers slept outside the offices to keep their place in line. 'Workers were throwing stones and water bottles at the police, who shot into the air,' said a witness, who did not want to be named.
Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar said the media had overreacted to the incident. He also denied that the only death in the incident resulted from the rioting. 'She was sick and then joined the queue.'
He said that the incident happened after more workers showed up at the consulate than it expected. 'I have called on the Foreign Ministry to add more tables, staff and budget,' he said.
Faizasyah said that the incident could damage the credibility of Indonesian workers in the country.
'Such unlawful acts could make employers rethink about hiring Indonesian workers,' he said.
Lawmaker Poempida Hidayatullah of the Golkar Party slammed the government for being irresponsible.
'There have been other protests by Indonesians in Saudi Arabia in the past few months but they have not been acknowledged.'
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