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Indonesian Migrant Workers Fall Victim To Transnational Human Trafficking

Repost: Adelina, not her real name, was 20 years old when she was forced into sexual slavery after being scammed by an unscrupulous broker. After three years of working as a shopkeeper in Lamongan Regency, believing she could earn much more, she wanted to work abroad in the hospitality industry to support her four younger siblings.

Adelina paid the broker IDR 10 million (US$643), allegedly for documentation and hospitality training, and was sent off to Malaysia in 2013. When she arrived, her passport was confiscated and she was forced to work as a prostitute for four years without pay. She was finally rescued by anti-human trafficking non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with support from the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Image Credit: Maritime Fairtrade

Abdul, a fisherman from Tuban Regency, is still missing after signing up with a fishing vessel plying international waters. For five years, his wife and two children struggled to accept his disappearance. Because of the poor catch in local waters due to illegal fishing and bad weather, Abdul accepted an offer from a broker to fish in international waters.

For the first year, Abdul’s family was still able to communicate with him but from 2017 onwards, there was only silence. His last known location was the South China Sea. Now, his family’s hope is simple. They only want to know whether he is dead or alive.

Image Credit: Maritime Fairtrade

Putri Masyita, international relations researcher, uncovered these stories and more during his research into human trafficking and found that Indonesian migrant workers are prone to becoming victims.

Putri said: “What happened to Adelina can potentially happen to other young Indonesian women. When they are poor and there are not many job opportunities at home, working abroad becomes an attractive option. They are also under pressure to financially provide for their families, which include aged parents and young siblings.

“However, most of the times, criminals use foreign jobs as a front for human trafficking. There are now hundreds of young Indonesian women who are victims of human trafficking, forced to work as prostitutes in Vietnam and Cambodia, waiting to be rescued and to be united with their families.

“Abdul’s story is common among fishermen. It can be quite lawless working on a vessel in international waters because it is hard to impose legal jurisdictions and to enforce the law. According to research, only 20 percent of fishermen get their labor rights working on foreign-owned fishing vessels. In a way, Indonesians who chose to work on this kind of vessel are gambling with their fate.

“Many of them ended up as victims of human trafficking and worked as slaves without pay. The lucky ones may be released after a few years, or if they died, their bodies were returned to their families in Indonesia. There were others who were not so lucky. They went missing indefinitely. It’s a tragic story.”

Image Credit: Maritime Fairtrade

Putri said as long as there is extreme poverty and not enough jobs, Indonesians will always be looking abroad to better their economic situation and the potential for human trafficking will remain.

Putri added that in the current recession which is estimated to last through 2023, prospective migrant workers should take extra care to check on brokers and agents and they should only deal with the legitimate ones. She emphasized in no circumstances should Indonesians knowingly sign on with shady brokers and become illegal migrant workers.

Image Credit: Maritime Fairtrade

Judha Nugraha, an official from the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Maritime Fairtrade the government is committed to protect all Indonesian migrant workers and there are also ongoing rescue efforts to free victims of human trafficking.

From 2021 to mid-2022, there are a total of 934 victims. Indonesia succeeded in bringing home 442 victims. 166 victims are still in safe houses belonging to the Indonesian embassies, waiting to be repatriated.

Image Credit: Maritime Fairtrade

Judha said: “Currently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with local police forces, is investigating cases of human trafficking and working to bring justice to the victims. We are in the midst of rescuing some of them.

“Usually, Indonesians fall victim to online job scam, where they were offered overseas jobs via the internet. When they arrived, their passports were taken away and they were forced to work without pay. Most of the time, their work is a violation of the law.

“We urge all Indonesians to be extra cautious and do a background check on job offers they see on the internet and social media. If what looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Maritime Fairtrade

Crewing Online Media Team
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