Nus Meo, holding microphone, an activist from the East Nusa Tenggara Care Forum calls on President Joko Widodo to conduct a moratorium on sending migrant workers to Malaysia during a rally in Jakarta on March 26. (Photo by Ryan Dagur)
Hundreds of students and activists from East Nusa Tenggara province staged a rally outside the presidential palace in Jakarta on March 26 demanding President Joko Widodo take "special steps" to stop human trafficking.
The protest was in response to reports of a growing number of workers dying while working overseas.
The protesters said the government "can no longer rely solely on the usual ways to deal with human trafficking as the number of dead victims who are being sent home continues to rise."
"We can see that earlier promises [to address the situation] have borne little fruit. Instead of dropping, the number of cases is growing," said Nus Meo from the East Nusa Tenggara Care Forum.
"Now is the time for the president to take extraordinary measures," he added.
One suggestion would be to conduct a moratorium on the sending of migrant workers to foreign countries where their rights are not always respected, he added, pointing to Malaysia as a prime example.
"The president needs to stop this [scourge] while remedying a pattern of recruitment" that leaves people, especially young women, vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and is even putting their lives at risk, he said.
The rally in the capital was just one of a series of protests organized by people in the Christian-majority province against human trafficking.
In Kupang, the provincial capital, several human rights groups conducted another demonstration commanding the attention of the governor and police chief on March 28.
On March 23, activists met Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri and proposed setting up a task force comprising government personnel and private agencies.
They suggested this panel coordinate with local officials based in countries where Indonesian migrant workers most commonly head to in order to stave off trafficking and protect their rights.
This surge of interest was triggered by the case of Adelina Jemira Sau, a migrant worker who died on Feb. 11 in Malaysia after being physically abused by her employer.
This year 18 migrant workers from the same Indonesian province have died in Malaysia. All were working there illegally.
In 2017 the comparable death toll stood at 62 and in 2016 it was 46. In both years, only one or two Indonesians were registered as legal aliens in the neighboring Southeast Asian country.
Activists say these numbers are unacceptable.
"The delivery of a corpse [to a worker's family] should be more than enough cause for the government to take serious steps," said Maria Yohanista Djou.
"We can't keep silent about this tragic news any longer. It seems to happen every day with no end in sight," she told ucanews.com.
There are an estimated 2.7 million to 3 million illegal migrant workers from East Nusa Tenggara province alone in Malaysia, according to data from the Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers.
Hermono, the agency's secretary-general, said more than nine in 10 migrant workers who travel from Indonesia to Malaysia work there without the proper documents.
Martinus Gabriel Goa Sola, director of the Advocacy Service for Justice and Peace in Indonesia, said that efforts to apprehend human traffickers by law enforcement officers are stymied by the law.
He said this focuses almost exclusively on catching the go-betweens, or scouts, who travel from village to village hunting for victims.
"They are the ones who roam around looking for workers. Meanwhile, the masterminds who provide all the funding are never touched. " he told ucanews.com.
He said corruption involving government officials and police officers make this a tougher nut to crack.
Sola called for decisive steps. He said the president must send a strong message to bureaucrats, lower governments officials and security officers that graft will no longer be tolerated, while anti-trafficking action plans must also be put in place.