The tangled mess snaring Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia resulted from long-standing issues identified from their home towns even before starting their, at times, perilous journey.Unscrupulous recruiters targeted the many pockets of impoverished areas, sweet-talking candidates into believing their false promises of lucrative job offers abroad.Some were lucky to land well-paying jobs under good working conditions, while others found themselves being exploited and placed in vulnerable positions.These were among findings from a three-year study by the Muhammadiyah University in Jakarta, between 2018 and 2020, on communication patterns of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia and Hong Kong, with their families back home.Amin Shabana, a researcher involved in the study, said it was found that most Indonesian workers came to Malaysia from Lombok, where it also identified a long list of pre-departure problems."These unscrupulous individuals will approach families of potential Indonesian migrant workers, enticing them to encourage sending their child abroad via irregular means," Amin said during a webinar last Friday, hosted by Indonesia's Kompas newspaper and supported by Japan's Sasakawa Peace Foundation."We found that a majority of Indonesian workers were employed under short-term contracts."The majority from Lombok were working in factories, while a large number of women were from Cirebon, Java, employed as domestic helpers," he said.Rosmidi (single name) is a former migrant worker from Lombok who previously entered and left Malaysia four times in over nine years, before finally returning home for good after the Covid-19 pandemic struck.Rosmidi said he worked for a different employer each time he entered Malaysia. This was to seek a higher pay from his initial monthly salary of RM1,200 as a factory mechanic."In Lombok, there are many touts hunting for victims by promising a salary of between RM2,000 and RM3,000 to migrant worker candidates."For my last job in Malaysia, I had to pay the agent nine million rupiah (RM2,577), and there were further deductions to my salary," he said.Employer carrying passports belonging to migrant workersAmin explained that solving the problems of irregular migrant workers would require stringent government monitoring, particularly against touts or sponsors who claimed to represent legitimate migrant worker placement companies.He said the government could explore the use of digital applications designed to assist Indonesian migrant workers in reporting any alleged rights abuses.When contacted, Amin said the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur informed him that the application was in development since mid-2019, but to date, its progress has been postponed indefinitely.Among its functions include a digital database of Indonesian workers in Malaysia and access to various available services.Another former migrant worker, Figo Kurniawan, said the root cause of issues surrounding migration from Indonesia could be traced back to poverty.Many were forced to leave to seek a better future, at times even risking their own lives and the fates of their loved ones back home.'Lives lost at sea'Figo himself was one of 180,000 migrant workers repatriated under the Back For Good amnesty exercise that ended on Dec 31, 2019. He had spent 12 years in Malaysia, the last 20 months without a valid permit.A condition for participation included being permanently blacklisted from re-entering Malaysia, something which Figo said some migrant workers could not accept."So they consciously chose (to leave Malaysia through) irregular means."The risk, no doubt, would be inviting death at sea," he said, alluding to perilous journeys that ranged from two hours to 10 hours on the open sea through various illegal routes.Undocumented migrant workers at the Selangor Immigration Office during the last day of the Back For Good repatriation exercise, Dec 31, 2019Similarly, for illegal departures from Indonesia, economic pressures driven by the Covid-19 pandemic saw Indonesian authorities foiling 519 attempts last year from just one district, Batam, in the Riau Islands province.Batam is a popular landing and take-off spot for undocumented workers due to its close proximity to Malaysia and Singapore.Many more, however, succeeded in leaving but still failed to arrive at their destinations.The Ops Benteng multi-agency crackdown by Malaysian authorities saw 12,087 migrants and 922 boat handlers arrested between May last year and up to Feb 26 this year. Most of these migrants are mostly believed to be from Indonesia.According to Indonesian government data, the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019 and the subsequent closure of businesses and construction sites resulted in a wave of departure by migrant workers. This includes 38,257 workers who departed from Johor to Batam.There were also 2,146 undocumented migrants repatriated by Malaysian authorities, leaving over 40,000 job vacancies that were initially targeted for replacement by the local Malaysians.Undocumented migrants arrested by the Immigration Department in May 2020A human rights activist from Batam, RD Chrisanctus Paschalis Saturnus Esong, said the pandemic had created more "hot spots" for problematic migrants beyond areas previously identified in East Nusa Tenggara, West Nusa Tenggara and Java."Many people, whether they like it or not, must go abroad to find work. They have no other choice," said Paschalis.The spokesperson at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Yoshi Iskandar, estimated there are some 4,000 of their citizens are awaiting deportation from Immigration detention centres nationwide, while 50,000 others left throughout last year.Entering into the new year, Yoshi said 222 Indonesians were deported through the recalibration exercise launched last November until June."Once you have returned, please do not come back illegally," he said.Alyaa Alhadjri from Malaysiakini, Hamzirwan Hamid and the editorial team from Kompas Daily contributed to this article that first appeared as a series in the Indonesian newspaper's print edition on March 8. Japan's Sasakawa Peace Foundation also supported the article.
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