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Jakarta Post

COVID-19: Indonesians overseas in limbo as trips canceled due to 'mudik' ban

  • Apriza Pinandita
    Apriza Pinandita

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, April 29, 2020   /   05:29 pm
COVID-19: Indonesians overseas in limbo as trips canceled due to 'mudik' ban Two passengers sit in the waiting room of the I Gusti Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali on April 24 after their flight was canceled due to the suspension of domestic flights following the government's 'mudik' (exodus) ban. (JP/Zul Trio Anggono)

Twenty-eight-year-old Miftahul Huda has worked and lived in Tsu city in Mie prefecture, Japan – a city around 400 kilometers from Tokyo – for the past three years.

The native of Malang, East Java, is one of a number of Indonesians who work as jisshuusei (technical interns) in Japan. Huda was supposed to return to Indonesia after finishing his internship this week, but he has been forced to stay a little longer as the flight scheduled to fly him to his hometown was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Indonesian government announced the ban on domestic flights last week, along with inter-provincial bus routes and inter-island sea transportation, following the ban on the Idul Fitri mudik (exodus) despite maintaining international flights.

On Sunday morning, Huda and his fellow interns from a fish processing company in Japan arrived at Kansai International Airport in Osaka. They had already checked in when the airline, Garuda Indonesia, announced that the Indonesian government had ordered a halt to all domestic flights.

“Garuda told us that it had canceled its Jakarta-Yogyakarta flight. Therefore, we decided to cancel our flight [from Japan to Indonesia] because we did not want to take the risk of not being able to go home after arriving in Jakarta,” Huda told The Jakarta Post via text message on Tuesday.

Huda said he was saddened because he was looking forward to meeting his 3-year-old son for the first time. “My wife was in her fourth month of pregnancy [when I left Indonesia],” he said.

Huda is just one of many Indonesians overseas unable to return home ahead of Idul Fitri. Although they can still fly to Jakarta or Denpasar, Bali – two of the most popular destinations for international flights – they will not be able to continue their travels to their home regions due to the government’s mudik ban.

Read also: Indonesians stranded abroad return home amid ‘mudik’ ban

Achdiar Redy Setiawan, a 40-year-old doctoral student in Malaysia, faces a similar predicament.

He was forced to cancel his plans to return home to Sumenep, East Java, and has been confined to his university dormitory due to Malaysia's restrictions on movement. He said he decided to take advantage of his isolation to finish his dissertation. 

“We’re bored, definitely, as we have limited space. We can only move around our dormitory and campus cafeteria. We only use WhatsApp to boost each other’s spirits,” he told the Post.

Despite his isolation, Achdiar said that international students on his campus were coping, as the University of Science, Malaysia (USM), provided students with coupons that could be redeemed for food in the cafeteria. 

For Huda, however, extending his stay in Japan has been quite a challenge, especially as his visa is about to expire. “It will expire this Wednesday,” he said. “We have made an application to the Japanese government to get a temporary extension.”

Even so, Huda said the company he worked for was willing to reemploy him. Huda said many employers were facing a shortage of workers due to the pandemic.

Despite the ban on domestic travel, hundreds of Indonesians overseas have been repatriated on special flights arranged by diplomatic missions over the past week. However, it is still unclear whether they will be permitted to continue their journeys to their hometowns.

The government has not issued a statement on the matter.