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Jakarta Post

High influx of Indonesian migrant workers from Malaysia, despite call to stay amid outbreak

  • Apriza Pinandita
    Apriza Pinandita

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, April 23, 2020   /   02:10 pm
High influx of Indonesian migrant workers from Malaysia, despite call to stay amid outbreak Authorities conduct medical check on 47 Indonesian migrant workers who have been caught by Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) personnel after returning from Malaysia via illegal routes through Nongsa waters in Batam, Riau Islands, on April 15. (Courtesy of Bakamla/via

The government says that of Tuesday, more than 64,000 Indonesian migrant workers – an estimated 46,000 of whom traveled by sea – had returned from Malaysia amid the country’s ongoing lockdown due to the COVID pandemic. 

According to the Indonesia Migrant Worker Protection Agency (BP2MI), an estimated 90,000 Indonesians are working in Malaysia, most of whom are employed in the informal sector.

The lockdown – officially known as the movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia – has been effective since March 18, causing disruption in the Indonesian migrant workers’ livelihood. 

With Ramadan and Idul Fitri approaching, many of the migrant workers have chosen to return to Indonesia as they started to face hurdles in maintaining their income amid the lockdown. The decision goes against the Indonesian government’s call for people to postpone travel plans. 

The government said that it had been actively delivering logistical assistance to the affected Indonesian citizens in Malaysia. The Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the deliveries were supposed to be effective in preventing the migrant workers from going home.

“As of Tuesday, more than 172,000 staple food packages have been delivered to those in need,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah in a press briefing on Wednesday.

“With the packages, we hope that our fellow Indonesians can have the basic necessities for the next two weeks or when Ramadan starts,” he added.

Read also: ASEAN must not neglect migrant workers, refugees in COVID-19 response: Activists

The government has reiterated that it has no repatriation plan for the migrant workers and other Indonesian citizens in Malaysia, saying that the figures represent only those who have returned voluntarily.

Unfortunately, not all returning migrant workers used legal routes to return home. 

Authorities in North Sumatra and Riau Islands recently caught dozens of Indonesian migrant workers returning from Malaysia, attempting to sneak past border authorities via illegal routes.

The Indonesian Navy spotted and secured a fishing vessel carrying 22 undocumented Indonesian migrant workers from Malaysia in Tanjung Tumpul in Asahan regency, North Sumatra, on Monday.

Last week, the Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) apprehended 47 migrant workers returning from Malaysia via illegal routes in the Nongsa waters of Batam, Riau Islands, on April 15.

Faizasyah said the government would coordinate with Malaysian authorities to monitor the situation. “Surveillance will be undertaken in places that have shown to be vulnerable to illegal entry,” he added.

Despite the massive influx of migrant workers in Indonesia, some ports in Malaysia have recorded a decrease in the number of outflowing Indonesian migrant workers.

Read also: COVID-19: Govt repatriates, isolates more than 500 TKIs from Malaysia

At Johor Baru Port, for instance, data from the Indonesian Consulate General in Johor Baru showed a decrease in the number of Indonesian migrant workers' departure compared to the early implementation of the MCO.  

During the early weeks of the lockdown, Johor Baru recorded an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 departures of Indonesians per day. However, the number has decreased to an average of 400 people since the beginning of this month. 

“The number dropped to only 158 people on Tuesday alone,” said Anang Fauzi Firdaus, the consulate general’s head of information, social and culture, on Wednesday.