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Indonesia Migrant Workers: Why do They Keep Going Back?

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Download This week we mark International Migrant Workers’ Day with an Indonesian story, that is at its heart, a global story.

There are six million Indonesian women working as nannies, cleaners and cooks in wealthier countries like Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Despite the horrific stories that appear almost weekly in the Indonesian media more women leave daily.

Rebecca Henschke profiles one former migrant labor who experienced the trauma of work abroad.

Her story begins in a village dominated by men and children.


At dusk as the call to prayer rings out children draw in the dirt and kick a football around outside the Cimanggu village mosque in West Java.

Almost all of their mothers they tell me are overseas. They are cooking, cleaning and looking after someone else’s children in wealthier nations like Malaysia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

Nearby Sukaezi is sanding pieces of wood. The house he is building is being paid for with the money his wife sends home. She went to Saudi Arabia two years ago leaving him to take care of their teenage daughter:

“In the beginning it was very hard. I have to be the mother and the father. But we have to do it because it’s for our dream, to finish building our house and to put our kid through school. If that dream is fulfilled then my wife can stay at home.”

Elly Anitha came from a village just like this in East Java. 

“My father is only a farmer and my mother a housewife and they had lots of children.”

When she turned eighteen she got her first job overseas.

So I chose Malaysia The employer the man was asking me when I would agree to be his girlfriend and I refused. “

She went to Hong Kong... twice. Both times she was underpaid and verbally abused and ended up having to take her second employer to court.

“I never told  my family when I  had a  terrible situation. I  didn't want them to worry about me; I just  wanted them to be happy. Only two months in a half I went to Bahrein."

It was in Bahrain that things became even worse for Elly. In the first household where she worked, the youngest son tried to rape her and she ran away. She then went to Dubai where she was told she would work as a secretary but her boss there had other ideas.

“He was touching my body. I said what you are doing? He said all my secretaries agree when I do this."

Angered by her refusal to obey him her boss said he would send her somewhere else.

"The name is Kurdistan. I said where is that? And he said part of Italy. I had no choice; he held my passport.”

It was not till she found some local bank notes at her agencies office that she realized she was in Iraq and in a war zone.

She demanded to be sent home. But her agent said they had paid a lot of money for her and he was not going to let her go easily. Escaping this time was difficult. She tried twice and was caught and then beaten badly.

She staged a hunger strike for two days then stole one of the security guards' phones to call the international labor organization and the Indonesian embassy in Jordan as well as the local rights group, Migrant Care.

But this only made her situation worse.

“The Indonesian embassy in Jordan called the agency and told them that the person who called the Indonesian government was Elly! In the afternoon they came and they beat me. They put a gun to my head...Elly you will stop your action or die.”

She didn’t stop and after two years of lobbying the international labor organization and the Indonesian embassy via stolen mobile phones her agent finally returned her passport.

“On the 7th of November I reach Jakarta."

Q. And how did you feel?

"I was very surprised because there were so many ministers waiting to pick me up at the airport and take me to a VIP room. I saw the Minister for Women, the Director of Foreign Affairs. I thought what a stupid party they make! They don’t do anything. I fight by myself."

After the official party and the storm of media interviews, Elly didn’t go home.

She joined the local rights group, Migrant Care and lobbied successfully for the release of the other six women who were with her in Iraq.

She still works for the group. She also travels across the country telling her story.

She often visits this area, Indramayu, a satellite suburb of the capital that is notorious for human trafficking.

She introduces me at night to Yulianti who lives next rice paddies full of frogs.

Yulianti was told she would work as a maid in Malaysia. Instead for seven nights a week she was forced to have sex with many men. She was paid nothing.

Yulianti tried to run away. But she was caught by her agent who threatened to report her to the police as an illegal migrant if she tried to escape again.

Bravely, five weeks later she tried again and made it to the police station. She was then rushed to the hospital for medical treatment because her genitals were damaged.

“I had to go through surgery, I couldn't stand it, I almost died I was bleeding so heavily.”

Despite the horrific experience her daughter has gone through, Yuli’s mother, Masroh, hopes she can go overseas again to earn money.

“My life is difficult...still like this, my daughter can’t go anywhere or work for anyone, so she can’t help her family. Other people’s daughters can go overseas and work. I want my daughter to be able to do that.”

The family pressure on migrant workers to succeed is incredibly intense.

Sri Lestari and Esther De Jong worked with Rebecca on this special feature for international labor day.


آخری تازہ کاری ( پیر, 13 دسمبر 2010 11:25 )  

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