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Jakarta Post

Another year passes with migrant worker issue still in dire straits

  • Agnes Anya

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, December 28, 2018   /   10:48 am
Another year passes with migrant worker issue still in dire straits Migrant Care Activist held a rally in front of the embassy of kingdom of Arab Saudi, Jakarta, Tuesday, March 20, 2018. The rally was held to condemn Saudi Arabia's execution of Indonesian migrant worker, M. Zaini Misrin from Bangkalan, for murder despite President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s repeated pleas that the man be granted clemency. (JP/Seto Wardhana.)

The year 2018 was supposed to be the year of achievement for Indonesia’s push for greater citizen protection abroad, a key policy priority under Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. However, the relevant sectors still harbor the same old flaws that prevent the country from helping its citizens escape abuse, kidnapping and capital punishment overseas.

This year, the government has handled 18,960 cases involving Indonesian nationals overseas and has settled 15,420 of them, according to data from the ministry. The rate, 84 percent, was higher than the 2017 figure of 62 percent.

The administration was also pit in a race against time to release seven Indonesians who were abducted by Philippine-based armed groups in its shared waters with Indonesia and Malaysia; three of whom were abducted in January 2017, two in September this year and the remaining in early December.

By December, Indonesia had freed four of them, while three others are still being held for ransom.

With the latest releases, the government under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s leadership has freed 37 hostages in the past four years, operating through various channels and away from the public’s attention.

The ministry also booked other forms of achievements by kicking off several citizen protection programs, including the launch of the Safe Travel mobile app and the Peduli WNI (Care for Indonesians) web portal, which aims at providing assistance to Indonesians traveling overseas.

Safe Travel is a mobile phone application that compiles information including travel tips and emergency contacts in all countries, while Peduli WNI is a web-based administration service portal for use by Indonesians abroad, with wide-ranging services that includes applications for birth certificates and national identity cards. The latter is integrated with all national data centers, including those under the Home Ministry and the Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers.

The Foreign Ministry’s director for the protection of Indonesian citizens and legal entities abroad, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, explained that the citizen protection infrastructure was initiated in 2014 and was researched and developed within three years before being made ready for the public earlier this year.

“In our roadmap, 2018 is the year of public acceptance, in which we are to see the public’s response to our programs, including the Safe Travel app and Peduli WNI portal,” Iqbal told The Jakarta Post recently, adding that the Safe Travel app had been downloaded by 370,000 users.

Iqbal also revealed that next year the ministry would team up with an outsourcing company to provide more officers who are ready to serve citizens seeking assistance, as the current roster of positions was filled by a limited number of young diplomats and ministry officials serving in shifts.

The launch of the portals, as well as the release of the hostages, have been acknowledged as part of the government’s achievements in ensuring protection for its citizens in 2018, said advocacy group Migrant CARE’s executive director Wahyu Susilo.

The online portal is particularly helpful at least for Indonesian migrant workers in Asia-Pacific countries, who are usually allowed to have their personal mobile phones with them, he said.

However, this year’s accomplishments were marred by the fact that the government had done little but witness the execution of two Indonesian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, Wahyu added.

In March, for the umpteenth time, Riyadh upset Jakarta for not notifying Indonesia prior to the beheading of M. Zaini Misrin, an Indonesian driver accused of killing his Saudi employer.

Zaini, who had worked since 1992 for his employer, Abdullah bin Umar Muhammad Al Sindy, had twice asked for his case to be reviewed, in January 2017 and once more a year later. While the first attempt was rejected, Jakarta claims his second appeal was in an ongoing legal process, even as he was executed.

As a result, the Foreign Ministry sent an official protest notice to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Indonesia, Osama bin Mohammed al-Shuaib. The ministry’s director general for Asia-Pacific and African affairs, Desra Percaya, had probed him about the issue. Some months later in October, Riyadh again triggered Indonesia’s anger by executing Tuti Tursilawati without prior knowledge of her family or Indonesian officials. She was charged with premeditated murder of her employer’s father, whom she had beaten to death with a stick. According to Saudi criminal law, the act is punishable by had ghillah (absolute death).

This time the incident prompted Retno herself to issue a summons to Ambassador al-Shuaib and force the hand of the Manpower Ministry, traditionally a vehicle for one of the country’s Islamic political parties, to review a recently announced agreement with the Saudis on sending Indonesian migrant workers to the Middle Eastern kingdom.

Under the so-called One Channel System, which was agreed to by representatives from the two countries just days before Tuti’s execution, the government initially planned to send a limited number of certified worker categories — babysitters, family cooks and caretakers for the elderly and family drivers, childcare workers and housekeepers — to Saudi Arabia despite a 2015 moratorium banning the sending of new domestic workers to 21 countries in the Middle East.

Migrant CARE called out Indonesia’s “inconsistence in governance” over this issue.

Unlike in Zaini’s case, the ministry had anticipated Tuti’s probable execution after considering the timeline when the case was concluded and the court ruling entered into force in 2011. Iqbal told the Post that the Foreign Ministry had carried out extensive efforts to ensure that the rights of both Tuti and Zaini were guaranteed throughout the legal process.

In addition to the two executions in Saudi Arabia, the year 2018 also marked the shocking death of Adelina Lisao, a 21-year-old Indonesian domestic worker who died in Penang, Malaysia.

Adelina, who was sent with forged documents to work in Malaysia, died after sustaining injuries all over her body, allegedly the result of severe abuse by her employers.

Jakarta responded by threatening Kuala Lumpur with a moratorium on sending migrant workers. The latter then invited Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri to a meeting to renew an agreement on migrant workers, which had expired in 2016. However, the renewal has yet to be sealed.

Nonetheless, Jakarta made an essential move for migrant workers in early December by joining 163 other countries in ratifying the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in Marrakesh, Morocco.

In that instance, Retno underscored the necessity of concerted efforts at the national, regional and global level to ensure the effective implementation of the pact, “especially in creating an enabling environment to achieve safe, orderly and regular migration at work”.

While hailing the move, Migrant CARE questioned the government’s attitude in shifting the paradigm of governance in the sphere of migrant worker protection.

“Efforts to end vulnerability and violence leading to death as experienced by Indonesian migrant workers are certainly not only based on legal instruments,” Wahyu said in a statement recently.

Until now, he said, the government had yet to set up measures to transition from the pro-business Law No. 39/2004 to the protection-first Law No. 18/2017 on the placement of workers abroad.

“As a result, the [loophole] was abused [to serve] an inconsiderate recruitment process that has opened up space for human trafficking,” he said.

This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post's print edition on Dec. 26, 2018, with the title "Another year passes with migrant worker issue still in dire straits".