Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Illegal workers tell Susilo of their plight

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Nunukan

Indonesian illegal migrant workers, stranded in Nunukan, East Kalimantan after being expelled from Malaysia, have told visiting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Tuesday that they wanted to return to Malaysia as soon as possible.

They complained about expensive fees being charged by Indonesian authorities to obtain the necessary documents, such as passports and work visas, and the excessive amount of time it took for them to be processed.

Workers have claimed that they have been required to pay at least 700 Malaysian ringgit and have had to wait three weeks to get the documents.

Jamal, an illegal migrant from South Sulawesi, said he had to pay 700 ringgit because he wanted to return to Malaysia as soon as possible, as he found it difficult to get job at home.

Responding to their grievances, President Susilo pledged to review the existing labor export mechanisms in order to facilitate the workers' immediate return to Malaysia. He did not elaborate.

During the visit, Susilo, accompanied by Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Fahmi Idris, held a dialog session with some 600 workers being housed in 80 barracks at Mambunut, around 25 kilometers from Nunukan.

At the talks, the President asked the workers if they wanted to go back to Malaysia and how long they had already worked in that country.

A woman worker appealed to the President to speed up the documentation process so that she and other workers would not be forced to stay too long in the camps.

In order for workers to work in Malaysia safely, the President urged illegal workers who were still in Malaysia to return home immediately to obtain proper documentation.

"If workers have the necessary documents in their hands, they will be able to work in peace and will be well protected," he said.

The head of the manpower and transmigration office in Nunukan, Petrus Kanisius, said that besides the 600 workers, more than 930 others were waiting to depart for Sabah and Sarawak after obtaining all the documents to legally work in Malaysia.

"The workers are waiting for job orders from their prospective employers there," he added.

An estimated 450,000 Indonesian illegal immigrants have defied the Malaysian government's amnesty deadline to return home voluntarily to arrange their working documents.

Many have said they were unable to leave Malaysia due to a lack of funds as their employers were withholding their wages.

Following the end of the amnesty period on Feb. 28, Malaysia and Indonesia established joint offices at 11 seaports across the country to provide "one-stop services" for illegal workers to get their necessary documents, including passports and working visas.

However, the joint program has been strongly criticized by labor activists and exporters for imposing high fees for the documentation.

Based on a decree issued the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, workers are required to pay Rp 2.9 million (US$312) each for all documents, including passports and working visas.