Sat, 06 Dec 2003

Migrant workers return home to be hospitalized

Leony Aurora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Yati lay quietly on her bed. She patiently obliged the wishes of a press photographer, by displaying her bruised back, her battered feet and her slightly swollen hands.

She slowly opened her scarf to reveal her almost bald head; only tufts of hair remained.

Every part of her body seemed to be testimony of the cruelty of her former employer in Saudi Arabia.

Even the red spot between her eyes, which seemed to be little more than a pimple, was in fact inflicted upon her by her employer, who had hit her there with a high-heel shoe.

"She once said 'after I beat you up, my heart becomes calm'," said the 33-year-old migrant worker recently, quoting her former employer, from whom she had endured the 21-month-long torture.

When she wanted to terminate her two-year contract, the woman had poured ceramic cleaner on Yati's feet. Yati begged her employer's husband to let her return home.

She said, on her departure from Ryadh, she carried with her Rp 1.7 million (US$200) in cash and a 6,000 riyal (US$1,570) cheque, amounting to approximately 12-months salary. "I had sent home my first five-months salary," she said, but the rest had been spent by her employer on the ticket home, some clothes and toys.

Upon arrival at Terminal 3 in the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Yati was taken directly to the Police Central Sukanto Hospital in Kramatjati, East Jakarta.

Another worker being treated there was Musriah, 20, who had worked for four months in Kuwait and spent another month in a hospital there. She broke her back and ankle when she jumped from the third floor of her employer's house to escape.

"I just had to escape, I couldn't bear it anymore," she said.

Musriah said she had received abuse from the one-and-a-half- year-old child she had looked after, who had constantly pulled out her hair and scratched her face. Although she had often cried out, her employer did nothing to alleviate the situation.

After she begged to go home, her employer locked her up, prompting her to jump from the third floor.

These women's cases are just two of many that surfaced during the last few months. Poor treatment, not only violence, but also the denial of food and rest, have long been reported as conditions endured by migrant workers.

Wiwit, 24, bears the cost of months of poor nutrition and little rest.

During her nine months in Singapore, Wiwit had to work from 5 a.m. through to midnight, cleaning a four-story house, washing the cars, and sweeping the garden, among other jobs.

She ate two pieces of bread in the morning and half-cooked rice, (because she only had 10 minutes to prepare her meals) and vegetables for lunch and dinner.

"My employer beat me up when I worked slowly, my body became weaker as I didn't eat or rest enough," Wiwit said.

She took the job because she wanted to collect capital for her husband to build a garage. "I was supposed to get Rp 1.5 million a month," she said. She came home with only S$15 (about $9) in her pocket, as the rest went to her agent.

Wiwit was treated at the psychiatric ward in the police hospital for a mental breakdown.

Seven ministers, including Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Yusuf Kalla, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda, and Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea, on Nov. 17 signed a joint decree to set up advocacy teams overseas to help migrant workers.

The Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Committee, however, questioned this measure, as a similar decree signed two years ago had prompted no meaningful changes.

In 2001, 419 companies sending workers abroad were listed with the ministry of manpower. Approximately 500,000 Indonesians worked overseas and $2.2 billion in foreign exchange was contributed by this sector last year.