A Migrant CARE activist holds up a placard reading "Migrant workers are not a commodity" during a rally in Jakarta this month. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)
Six people were killed on June 29 when two speedboats carrying suspected illegal migrants collided on a river separating Indonesia and Malaysia on the island of Borneo.
Thirteen other people survived the crash, while four others were reported missing.
The accident occurred on the Nyamuk River after dark when the two boats collided after they turned off their lights to avoid being noticed by police.
One of the boats was carrying returning migrant workers from Tawau in Malaysia to Sebatik Island in North Kalimantan, Indonesia.
All the dead were from the Catholic-majority province of East Nusa Tenggara.
The accident prompted Catholic activists to call for a thorough investigation not only into the accident but also into the trafficking ring smuggling people between the neighboring countries
"The government should be looking into the circumstances behind this tragedy, not just the accident itself, so that this doesn’t happen again," Gabriel Goa Sola, director of the Advocacy Service for Justice and Peace, an East Nusa Tenggara-based rights group fighting human trafficking, told ucanews.com.
He said the migrants were fleeing back across the border because the Malaysian government was planning a crackdown on illegal foreign workers beginning July 1.
"The Indonesian government must not be silent and should jump in to save illegal migrant workers in Malaysia and other countries," he said.
There are estimated to be more than 3 million Indonesians working in Malaysia, at least 500,000 of whom are working there illegally, according Indonesian government figures.
The Indonesian government says it is doing its best to protect the workers and that President Joko Widodo asked Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to do just that at a meeting also on June 29 in Bogor, West Java.
Both leaders agreed to renew a memorandum of understanding on migrant worker placement and protection that expired in 2016.
"We hope negotiations on this can be resolved immediately," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi said.
Wahyu Susilo, executive director of Jakarta-based Migrant CARE, a group that provides care to Indonesian migrant workers, Widodo needs a more comprehensive agreement since workers in Malaysia continue to face violence and trafficking is still rampant.
More needs to be done to ensure Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur follow the principles of the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers which was signed by both countries.