Wed, 24 May 2000

Mela adds to list of dire stories of migrant workers

JAKARTA (JP): Mela Indahsari, 14, wanted to be a good daughter. Her only dream was to help her poor family by becoming a migrant worker.

She saw no other alternative than to join her friends, who had been recruited by an agent of labor export agency PT Amira Prima, and work abroad. She thought she would enjoy a monthly income of US$125 (about Rp 1 million under the current rate, as promised by the agency.

She quit her state junior high school in her hometown of Indramayu, West Java, and even let her sponsor change her real age in her passport to 27.

The minimum age requirement to work abroad is 25.

She passed the screening test and left for Gaza in Palestine in early March, without proper knowledge or training.

Instead of earning a satisfactory wage, her life in Palestine turned out to be a nightmare. She was abused by her bosses and her agency there. So much so, she may be paralyzed for the rest of her life.

During the time Mela was abroad, every time she asked to return home she was beaten.

Her lawyer, Munir Achmad from the Legal Aid Institute for Indonesian Migrant Workers (LPBHTKI), said her back bone and legs were damaged on account of the punishment she received.

"She almost can't move her body. I think she is paralyzed," Munir said.

Mela is now being treated at the National Police R.S. Soekanto Hospital in Kramatjati, East Jakarta.

When The Jakarta Post visited her in her hospital room on Monday, she looked skinny. Her left leg was bandaged and a catheter had been inserted into her urethra to help her urinate.

Surprisingly, there was a 20-centimeter long chain of stitches in her stomach. Mela did not know what doctors at Al Gaza Hospital in Gaza had done to her body.

"They (the doctors) told me nothing. I was anesthetized and then I felt pain in my stomach," she said.

Her parents, Kusni and Pendi arrived at the hospital on Sunday night after being picked up from Indramayu by her lawyer, Munir. They said Mela was healthy when she left for Gaza three months ago and that there was no reason for an operation.

Munir reckoned the operation was to insert a metal plate along her damaged back bone.

"That's why in the end they transported her back here, fearing she would die," he said.

Mela tried to remember all of her nightmare. Although all she could now feel was pain in her stomach and legs.

"My boss started to beat me during my first three days there. He did it just because I had diarrhea," she said.

She said her boss, whom she identified as Mr. Jiro, simply sent her back to her agency where she received another beating.

"I was then transferred to another boss, Mr. Ahmad. But I was sent back to the agency because I was always in poor health.

"Instead of letting me rest, the agency sent me to another place where I had to work from 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. every day," she said.

"I had to work hard cleaning up the household, cooking and looking after three children. I couldn't bear the burden so that I collapsed one day and was sent back to the agency.

"But again they forced me to work at another place," she said.

It was only when she had been ordered to work for a fourth boss that she decided to escape, early one morning in April.

"My boss's apartment was located on the third floor. When I tried to flee, I slipped and lost my balance. I fell to the ground and my legs broke," she said.

After screaming for help, she was taken to hospital by Palestinian police officers.

She does not know why, but it was then she was sent back home. "I was taken to an airplane on a stretcher and laid down on three seats."

Her parents can do nothing for her.

"I have delegated my legal authority to Pak Munir. We'll agree with any steps he takes," Pendi said. (ind)