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Family, mental issues haunt migrant workers in Macau

Covid-19 restrictions barred thousands of migrants workers from visiting their homeland since 2019
Indonesian migrant workers in Macau receive assistance from Indonesian Migrant Workers Union during the Covid-19 pandemic

Indonesian migrant workers in Macau receive assistance from Indonesian Migrant Workers Union during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Yosa Wariyanti)

Published: November 29, 2022 11:39 AM GMT

Thousands of migrant workers in Macau who refrained from visiting their families in their homeland due to Covid-19 restrictions face increased mental issues and familial conflict, says a migrant activist.

Around 45,000 migrant workers have not visited their homeland to meet their kin since the pandemic started in 2019 and Macau tightened its travel restrictions, Portuguese news agency Hoje Macau reported on Nov. 28.

“First, if we went, we wouldn't be able to return [to Macau]. Afterward, we could go back, but the quarantine was very long, 21 days, and very expensive,” said Yosa Wariyanti, president of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union in Macau.

With the Macau administration reducing the quarantine requirement to five days in a hotel and three days at home since Nov. 12 many workers have expressed their desire to go home.

Wariyanti herself has not been able to visit her home in Indonesia since 2019, and her already deteriorating relationship worsened when she missed her youngest son's graduation ceremony in 2021.

She plans to attend the fifth Global Assembly of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), in Bangkok, Thailand, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2022, and later visit her family to sort out their differences.

The conference includes a series of panel discussions on issues affecting the sector, assessing the alliance’s four years of work, acceptance of new members, the election of new officers, and preparing the development plans for the next three years.

Established in June 2008 by 108 organizations from 25 countries IMA now has more than 158 member organizations from 30 countries worldwide.

The organization aims to “strengthen and put forward the voice of the grassroots migrants, refugees and displaced people on issues affecting them and their families.”

Wariyanti stated that many couples faced separation or divorce during the last three years because of the monetary crisis, and uncertainty of the possibility to return home.

“Some [family members] don't understand that, when the situation is difficult here, we don't receive a salary and we can't send money home,” the Indonesian woman said. “We say we are an ATM.”

Many migrant workers faced a loss of pay during the July 2022 partial confinement wherein the government permitted employers to not pay workers who were forced to stay at home.

Many migrant workers were forced to survive on food donations as they faced a serious shortage of essential goods. Catholic charity Caritas Macau joined the authorities to offer food aid to affected migrants.

Wariyanti also pointed out that cultural norms often force migrant workers to not reveal the problems that they face and even borrow money to fulfill the needs of their families.

“In our culture, we don't want to be a burden on our family. Even if we are sick, or unemployed, we always say we are fine.”

She also added that “we [migrant workers] always send money and some even borrow money from moneylenders [for their family].”

With an estimated 21,000 people per square kilometer on the 33-square-kilometer island, Macau is one of the world’s most densely populated places.

Macau has about 30,000 Catholics with an estimated population of 700,000.

The multimillion-dollar gaming and gambling industry, estimated to be seven times larger than that of Las Vegas, is Macau’s primary source of income and was the worst affected after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The unemployment rate in Macau was 3.7 percent from April to June 2022, up from 2.9 percent during the same period in 2021.

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