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Karmadi’s Story

I came to Malaysia in 1989 when I was 19. I remember the hardship my family experienced and money was always short. My father was old and my mother could not find work. I had a lot of problems supporting my education, so I decided to leave my home for Malaysia.

On my first journey to Malaysia, we were brought to Pulau Asem, the first of our many destinations. There were about 100 people on the boat: men, women and even children. I was the first person to jump off the boat. Others were afraid to do so. We were afraid of being caught by the Indonesian Marine Police who patrol these areas.

I approached a middleman from my village who arranged for travel to Malaysia. It cost me RP 1 million for my passage to Malaysia.

We were told to disembark. Some were pushed into the water. Holding our belongings on our heads, we waded towards the beach. Once we reached the beach, we were asked to run towards a small stall. We were then kept hidden in a safe house nearby.

When I first started working in Malaysia, I was afraid of being apprehended by the authorities. I usually gave bribes to policemen when I was held, on the advice of my friends.

Once my friend and I were apprehended while trying to cross the Malaysian–Thailand border. I was told by a friend that we would be able to get traveling papers if I crossed over to Thailand. At the border check-point, Malaysian immigration officers became suspicious and arrested me. The officer took pity on me and advised me to plead guilty to the charge of overstaying in Malaysia. As a result, I was sent to a detention centre for almost three months. I become very ill at the detention centre and decided to return home in 2003.

I have been cheated many times in my effort to obtain work permits. I was cheated by both Indonesian and Malaysian agents. In 2004, I managed to get a valid permit when I joined a property developer who had started a housing project in Shah Alam.

The videos I made were based on Indonesian migrant workers living in Kampung Pandan. I come across many people who are mistreated by their employers. This includes both documented and undocumented workers. Many of my community members were cheated by agents during the 6P Programme.

The authorities are not interested to know why the migrants are undocumented. They just want to punish them. No one wants to be an undocumented worker, but due to poor laws and enforcement, it gives agents a lot of opportunities to deceive desperate migrant workers. One agent even challenged a worker she had cheated by saying: “If you dare, go report to the police!”

Watch all the videos from the Crossroads project here.