Jakarta, Dec 24, 2011 (ANTARA) - The year 2011 has been very busy year for Indonesian migrant workers and the government as well because of continuing problems such as ill treatments and legal problems, and the Arab Spring in particular.
With almost five million Indonesians working overseas, the government has been forced to spend much energy, time and money on preparing policies and measures for their protection.
Indonesia is one of the largest suppliers of migrant workers overseas such as in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, South Korea, and several countries experiencing Arab Spring uprising, like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria.
A total of remittances of the country`s migrant workers each year to Indonesia is estimated to reach around Rp100 trillion.
One of the most serious problems facing the government is the fact that 216 Indonesians are facing death penalty overseas, with Malaysia hosting the largest number of such cases.
According to the foreign affairs ministry`s data, some 117 migrant workers are facing the death penalty in Malaysia, 20 in China, 17 in Saudi Arabia and two in Singapore.
The foreign ministry through its representative offices abroad handled 15,766 cases and until March this year it has handled 1,482 cases.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when chairing a meeting on the Task Force of Indonesian Migrant Workers on July 1, 2011, said that of the 216 Indonesians facing death penalty abroad, 70 percent were involved in drug trafficking and 28 percent had committed murders.
The government has managed to help set free some of those facing death penalty abroad, get reduction of their punishment or even pardon, he said, adding that the government will keep on helping them.
"I call it not an easy task. many people say it`s mission impossible, but there is a God way, the impossible could become possible," the president said.
The Task Force set up by the President to help the workers being threatened by the death penalty overseas, is headed by Mahfuth Basyuni (former religious affairs minister), with members consisting of Bambang Hendarso Danuri (former national police chief), Hendarman Supandji (former attorney general), and Alwi Shihab (former foreign affairs minister).
This year, the beheading of Ruyati binti Satubi (54), a migrant worker from West Java, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on June 18, had become a media spotlight.
She was executed after being found guilty of killing the wife of her Saudi employer, Khairiya bint Hamid Mijlid, by striking her repeatedly on the head with a meat chopper and stabbing her in the neck.
The execution has prompted the government to protest the action by recalling its ambassador to the Middle Eastern kingdom. Various parties, including Ruyati`s family and NGOs, have also reacted angrily.
Another female worker, Darsem binti Dawud, has managed to escape the sword after the government announced its readiness to pay a Rp 4.6 billion (US$520,000) fine to spare the house maid from execution in Saudi Arabia.
Darsem, a migrant worker from Subang, West Java, previously said she killed her employer in self defense after he tried to rape her.
Four days after the beheading of Ruyati, the government announced a moratorium on the dispatch of migrant workers to Saudi Arabia.
The moratorium was effective as of August 1, 2011, pending negotiations with the Saudi Arabian government on the protection of the workers whose number is around 900,000 mostly as housemaids in the Arab kingdom.
The government prepared a plan to allocate funds amounting to Rp1.4 trillion for the National Program of Community Empowerment (PNPM) Mandiri to accommodate migrant workers failing to find job overseas.
Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Hatta Rajasa recently said the funds collected from savings carried out by ministries, which have amounted to Rp15.1 trillion so far.
"This is a program that we have prepared for handling the impact of the moratorium. We have to respond to and address the problem," he said.
Some 1.96 million people are expected to receive benefits from the program, especially those living in 38 districts which have been identified as suppliers of Indonesian migrant workers (TKIs).
Yudhoyono on June 24, 2011, said the government prepared three sectors, namely infrastructure, manufacturing and plantation to absorb the unemployed following the implementation of the moratorium.
He hoped that the smallholder credit scheme (KUR) could be expanded and improved to support micro-, small and medium businesses.
"Actually, if all of them are carried out more employment will be created and solution will be available in exchange for the moratorium," he said.
The head of state also decided to post legal and human rights attaches in certain countries to help protect the workers.
Indonesia, the world`s fourth most populous country after China, India and the United States of America, has an unemployment rate of between 7 and 8 percent. More than 30 percent of its 237 million population are between 19 and 24 years old.
Protection of migrant workers is also a big concern for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which was chaired by Indonesia in 2011.
Six ASEAN member countries, namely Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar are suppliers of migrant workers overseas including within ASEAN region. The other four ASEAN member countries, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam are recorded as recipients of migrant workers.
Based on the 2010 data, Malaysia had received 116,056 Indonesian migrant workers, Singapore 39,623 and Brunei Darussalam 7,360.
At the Fourth Meeting of the ASEAN Committee for Migrant Workers (ACMW) in Jakarta, on April 11-12, 2011, ASEAN member states negotiated a set of regulations to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers.
ACMW is an ASEAN committee specifically designed to deal with issues related to the protection and promotion of migrant workers.
Last June 2011, President Yudhoyono was invited to give a keynote address at the 100th conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland.
He said ILO`s invitation to him was acknowledgment of the international community of Indonesia`s success in coping with its labor problems during the global crisis in 2008.
Besides, he said, Indonesia was also deemed to be seriously doing its best to solve its labor problems after ratifying eight manpower conventions.
"Indonesia is the first ASEAN country to have ratified the conventions because of its seriousness in solving its labor problems in the best possible manner," Yudhoyono said.
The Arab Spring had also forced the Indonesian government to repatriate its citizens, particularly students and migrant workers staying in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.
Early January 2011, the foreign affairs ministry repatriated 32 migrant workers who were employed by the close relatives of the former President Ben Ali and other Tunisian senior officials as housemaids.
Following the political unrest in Egypt to demand President Hosni Mubarak`s resignation, the Indonesian government also made efforts to repatriate all its citizens from the Middle Eastern country.
Manpower and Transmigration Ministry Muhaimin Iskandar said in February 2011 that there were around 6,500 Indonesian citizens including 1,500 migrant workers, students, and tourists in Egypt and thus the government wanted them all repatriated.
Of the 1,500 Indonesian migrant workers working in Egypt, 500 of them had gone there on their own, Muhaimin said .
The year 2011 was also marked by repatriation of thousands of troubled migrant workers from Saudi Arabia.
Moved by the frequent reports of violence befalling Indonesian migrant workers abroad, President Yudhoyono last April expressed the hope that no more Indonesians would be employed as domestic helpers overseas in the future.
"In the coming years. I think, there is no need for our brothers and sisters to become migrant workers, the less so if they are employed as domestic helpers," he said.
"As fellow Indonesian citizens, we will only allow our brothers or sisters to work abroad as professionals. But if they are to be employed as domestic helpers, we are determined to reduce their number from now on. And, God willing, now is the time to stop sending domestic helpers abroad by creating more jobs at home," he said.
To that end, he said, the government was trying to create more jobs under a master plan aimed at accelerating and expanding economic development until 2025. ***4***
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