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Indonesia braces for migrant worker influx

Widodo calls for stricter Covid-19 screening amid fears they pose a greater disease risk than previous returnees

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Indonesia braces for migrant worker influx

Indonesian migrant workers arrive home in Riau province in Sumatra in March. (Photo supplied)

Indonesia is expecting an influx of at least 16,00 migrant workers and expatriates forced to return as a result of hardship caused by Covid-19 lockdowns in other countries.

The expected flood prompted Indonesian President Joko Widodo to order the country’s Covid-19 Task Force to ensure quarantine protocols are strictly applied to all returnees entering the country before they are allowed to return to their hometowns.

Authorities and locals fear this month's returnees pose a greater risk of spreading the coronavirus than the thousands who returned before the pandemic exploded in other parts of the world.

“Every single person coming home must be thoroughly screened and must undergo 14 days of quarantine. It must be handled seriously so that we are not confronted by a second wave [of the pandemic],” Kompas.com quoted Widodo as saying.

Benny Ramdhani, who heads the government’s Agency for the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers, said the returnees had no choice but to return home following lockdowns that had severely affected the economies of countries where they worked.

“Most of them worked in Malaysia,” he told reporters, adding that others worked in other high-risk countries such as South Korea and several European countries.

Wahyu Susilo, executive director of Migrant CARE, said adequate facilities and care must be provided for the workers before they are allowed to return home.

He also called on the government to ensure they are not stigmatized by locals who might “mistakenly think they are all carriers of the virus.”

Divine Word Father Paul Rahmat, director of the church-affiliated rights and social justice group Vivat International Indonesia, expressed similar fears. “As long as health protocols are followed, local people should have nothing to fear,” he told UCA News.

He said returnees could end up being extremely vulnerable because of discrimination and rejection in their communities “because of people wrongly thinking they are carrying the deadly virus.”

The government should intervene in overcoming this problem, Father Rahmat said, adding that the Catholic Church would help educate local people.

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