Malaysia has begun the mass deportation of up to 800,000 Indonesian irregular migrant workers, despite appeals from Jakarta to postpone the move until after its 20 September presidential elections. According to non-governmental organizations monitoring the arrival of the deportees, some 8,500 have arrived in Surabaya, East Java, 3,500 have entered through Riau’s ports and another 7,000 are in Nunukan, East Kalimantan. Meanwhile, Indonesian Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea voiced the government’s appeal to Malaysia not to treat the workers as criminals and hopes that the recent shooting of an Indonesian irregular migrant worker in Selangor would be the last such incident. He also urged Kuala Lumpur to punish Malaysian companies found hiring irregular migrant workers.
A presidential decree defining the structure, operation and function of a task force to oversee the expected repatriation of thousands of Indonesian workers from Malaysia is underway. The task force would also be given the responsibility of dealing with irregular migrants in the country. According to Malik Fadjar, interim coordinating minister of social welfare, undocumented immigrants, including refugees from the Middle East, were found in Cisarua, West Java and other areas. Data from the Manpower Ministry in 2003 reveal that there are some 16,662 registered foreign professionals working in Indonesia.
The House of Representatives will start deliberations on 20 August on a new bill that seeks to address the issues concerning overseas recruitment and protection of its unskilled workforce. Included in the proposed bill are provisions for granting comprehensive insurance scheme and pension plan for workers, streamlining the operations of recruitment agencies and giving skills training and education to those seeking overseas employment.
According to labor exporters, the proposed bill focuses more on the punishment of errant recruitment agencies and the legalization of the government’s role in the deployment of workers and fails to address the regulation of the labor exporting industry. Meanwhile, NGOs have opposed the bill for failing to stipulate official procedures, as well as the responsibility of both the government and labor exporters in ensuring the protection of the workers.
Indonesian labor exporter Saleh Alwaini, through his holding company, the Binawan Corporation, is set to supply Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, Australia and the Middle East with some 400 professional healthcare workers annually. The first batch to leave for abroad by the end of this year consists of the initial graduates of the Binawan Institute of Health Sciences, which started operating in 2001. Saleh believes that exporting professional workers would help improve the image of Indonesian overseas workers.
Forty Afghan asylum seekers in Indonesia have gone on a hunger strike beginning 10 August to protest the rejection of their application for refugee status. About 16 of the protestors have sewn their lips together, vowing to fast until their cases are resolved. However, since the Afghans’ applications for refugee status have allegedly been rejected three times, the UNHCR said it will no longer consider further appeals. There are about 150 Afghan asylum seekers in Indonesia. Although some have been granted refugee status, many are still stuck in the outskirts of Jakarta living in cheap hostels paid for by the UN.
Source: Fadli, “Hundreds more on illegal migrant workers deported from Malaysia," The Jakarta Post, 2 August 2004; Ridwan Max Sijabat, “Skilled workers help improve RI’s image," The Jakarta Post, 2 August 2004; Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, “Government to target illegal aliens," The Jakarta Post, 3 August 2004; AFP, “Indonesia says Malaysia should return illegal migrant workers after polls," The Jakarta Post, 3 August 2004; “Hope for Indonesian expat workers," Khaleej Times, 5 August 2004; “M’sia asked to punish employers who recruit illegal workers," Sarawak Tribune, 5 August 2004; Ridwan Max Sijabat, “Malaysia told to punish employers that hire illegals," The Jakarta Post, 6 August 2004; Robert Go, “KL to deport 800,000 Indonesian workers," The Straits Times, 11 August 2004; AAP, "Asylum seekers begin hunger strike," 11 August 2004; AP, “Afghan asylum seekers sew up mouths in protest," Borneo Bulletin, 11 August 2004; AP, “Afghan refugees stitch up mouths in protest," The Star.com, 11 August 2004; Reuters, “Failed asylum seekers begin hunger strike," ABC News Online, 11 August 2004; “RI insists illegal workers are not criminals," The Jakarta Post, 11 August 2004; Ridwan Max Sijabat, “Labor exporters, NGOs oppose labor bill," The Jakarta Post, 14 August 2004