The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported a 51 percent drop in legal cases against Indonesian migrant workers this year on the back of new preventative measures that aim to better prepare workers for a life abroad, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.
“I won’t call it a success just yet, but the fact is that there is a significant reduction in the number of cases of troubled Indonesians overseas,” Marty said.
The ministry received reports of 19,218 legal cases against migrant workers in 2012, down from last year’s 38,880 reported cases, Marty said. Nearly 71 percent of these cases were resolved with help from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he said.
“It seems like our preventive measures, which included a moratorium and better preparation before sending our migrant workers [abroad], have started to deliver,” Marty said.
Some 6.5 million Indonesian citizens are employed as migrant workers, mostly as maids and laborers in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, according to data from the Ministry of Manpower. Most are from poor sections of rural Indonesia, where a lack of access to well-paying jobs sends young men and women overseas for work.
But a combination of poor training, harsh employment policies and unfamiliarity with local laws can land migrant workers in legal hot water while working abroad. Some are threatened with jail time over minor infractions, like theft or violating the terms of a work contract In more extreme cases, Indonesians abroad face the death penalty for murder or drug offenses.
In Malaysia, where official numbers place the Indonesian migrant worker population at 1.2 million and estimates from the Ministry of Manpower report a number closer to 2 million, more than 6,000 Indonesians are currently sitting in detention centers for a host of crimes.
Among those detained was 37-year-old Haryanto Azlan, who was sentenced to death for his role in a deadly brawl four years ago.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has negotiated clemency for 110 Indonesian citizens facing the death penalty in 2012. Eight were forgiven after compensating the victims’ families, Marty said.
But 119 Indonesia still face the threat of execution abroad, he said.
“Almost 60 percent of [death penalty cases] were related to drugs and 25 percent were murder cases,” Marty said.
The Indonesian government needs to take measures to reduce drug use, Marty said, explaining that the number of death penalty cases could drop 60 percent if Indonesian migrants stopped using and trafficking narcotics.
Migrant workers sent home some Rp 60 trillion ($6.2 billion) in remittances last year that provided a boost to local economies.
But crimes committed by Indonesians abroad, and accusations of injustice and racism aimed at Malaysian police often result in a diplomatic scuffle between the neighboring nations.
Marty hopes that by focusing on training and early detection of legal issues, the ministry can head off the issue at its source, by preventing Indonesians abroad from breaking the law in the first place.
“Previously we were very focused on protection, when there was a disaster or a legal case, we protected our citizens,” Marty said. “It went without saying. But after going deeper into the problem, we realized that we are not going to solve anything if we only focus on protection.”
— Markus Junianto Sihaloho contributed to this report.