By: Dhyta Caturani
After 12 hours of driving from Jakarta through hilly, winding, damaged roads and rubber tree forests, we finally arrived at a kampong (or village in English) in Mandalawangi, Cianjur. As the villagers there consists of a majority of Indonesians who were or are still migrant workers, we have long-been hoping to come here to screen our Crossroads advocacy videos on migrant workers, refugees, and stateless people.
On a late afternoon in February, around 20 people cramped themselves in the small house of Ms. Heti, a former migrant worker turned activist. There, we watched films from the collection and held a discussion afterwards.
It was very interesting for us to hear from the attendees, all of whom have had experience working in Arab countries. They were surprised to see similar problems faced by migrant workers in Malaysia, for example, the absence of the basic rights for migrant workers and protection from the authorities. Issues of document forgery, fraud by agencies, exploitation by employers, as well as physical abuse and sexual harassment also sounded all too familiar to them.
“Does our Embassy in Malaysia also pay no attention to our brothers and sisters there?”, asked one member of the audience. Nisaa, our resource person from Solidaritas Perempuan, explained the similar status of Indonesian migrant workers in different countries, while acknowledging that migrant workers in some countries do have slightly better conditions.
The discussion went to the issues of what the Government has done so far to protect Indonesian migrants. It had recently passed a moratorium to stop sending migrant workers to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, which actually led to the illegal sending of workers abroad, putting them in much more vulnerable positions.
After watching videos from Crossroads, we revisited Cerita Buruh Migran, a similar project we undertook in 2012. Some of the attendees of the warm gathering were participants from that project, and it delighted us to know that the work we’ve done was seen as useful by the people that matter.
We left Mandalawangi village early the next morning to drive another 12 hours to Pageraji village, Banyumas for a similar screening. We didn’t expect the trip there to take that long and were late by a couple of hours. Amazingly, however, around 40 women were still waiting for us in the village meeting hall. “None of them left,” said the organizer. We felt sorry, but also grateful and honored for their patience.
After screening six videos, a discussion began with some women sharing their experiences of working in Malaysia and various Arab countries. One woman was jailed in Saudi after being accused of trying to run away from her employer’s house. She served three years in prison and her employer got away from paying her salary for two years. She told the story of how the Indonesian government were the most ignorant of all, never visiting their citizens who imprisoned there. In her anger, she made stressed that if the Government can’t protect its migrant workers, it would be better to stop sending them overseas completely.
Another woman told the story of her niece, who was deported from Malaysia and had her baby taken away from her three years ago. Her niece is still suffering from depression to this day, and made a plea for help from us. Solidaritas Perempuan and the local organizer, Seruni, promised to assist her in any way possible.
The many comments from the attendees greatly helped us, and especially the organizations working on the issues, to better understand the cases of migrant workers from the area and to have a clearer picture of what they need to address their issues to the respective authorities and to carry out their campaigns.
Crossroads visits Jakarta, Blitar, Mataram, and Lampung in months of March and April, so stay tuned for our schedule and more updates!