Friday, February 09, 2007

New lounge, same abuse of migrant laborers

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Migrant workers have reported that they continue to be targets of extortion by corrupt officials at Departure Terminal II of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, just outside Jakarta.

A special lounge was opened for migrant workers in August, in an attempt to shield them from extortion. The lounge replaced the airport's Terminal III, which had become notorious among migrant workers for extortion.

The new lounge offers numerous facilities to help workers deal with authorities from immigration, the police and the local manpower and transmigration office. It also provides banking services.

In a speech during the lounge's opening, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono asked all government agencies to improve their services for migrant workers and ensure the best possible experience for departing workers.

Officials and security personnel at the service counters in the lounge have acknowledged problems in processing workers, but they say these problems are minor and can be resolved immediately.

Workers and labor exporters, however, tell a different story.

Those with the necessary documents and enough money may report relatively few difficulties, but workers with incomplete documents often find themselves at the mercy of corrupt officials who charge exorbitant fees for necessary paperwork.

Risnawati, 28, a migrant worker from Karawang, West Java, told The Jakarta Post she paid a total of Rp 1.2 million (US$133) to officials at the immigration and manpower offices, as well as to airport police to smooth the way for her departure for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday.

"I paid the money from my own pocket, as well as from my husband who was seeing me off," she said.

Many workers have also complained that officials coerce returning migrant workers to exchange their foreign currencies at Bank Mandiri.

One departing worker has been missing after allegedly being detained by airport police because of incomplete documents. Ratna binti Udi and five other workers were reportedly questioned by police on Nov. 18, 2006.

"The five were set free while Ratna's whereabouts are still unknown. The police have denied detaining her," said an official at PT Karya Pesona Sumber Rejeki, the agency which recruited the workers.

The six were among 41 workers recruited by the company to be employed as maids in Saudi Arabia. The other 35 were allowed to depart.

Indonesian Association of Labor Placement and Development chairman Adrie Nelwan said extortion by corrupt officials and unauthorized brokers was common in the migrant workers' lounge.

"Since the lounge was opened in August, extortion and other labor abuses have been common," he said. "The culprit is not the space but the officials."

No officials at the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry were available to comment on these charges.

Indonesian Labor Exporters Association chairman Husein Alaydrus urged the new National Agency for Labor Export and Protection to take tough measures to minimize extortion, both at international airports and during the recruitment of workers in their hometowns.



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