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 With Indonesians Stuck in Peru, Case for Bringing ‘Modern Slaves’ Home Becomes a Priority

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BerichtOnderwerp: With Indonesians Stuck in Peru, Case for Bringing ‘Modern Slaves’ Home Becomes a Priority   za 20 dec 2014 - 23:28

The Jakarta Globe, Dec 20, 2014

Lima, Peru. Hipdon Taufik, 31, said all he wants is to go home to his village in the district of Cianjur, West Java.

“My dreams are ruined. It has been one year since I fed my family,” Hipdon told the Jakarta Globe, hiding his face with his head bowed down, staring at the floor of the Indonesian Embassy in Lima, Peru.

“I am the oldest in my family. My father is long deceased and I have a family of my own,” he said.

Hipdon and three of his friends, Muhammad Ali, Nendi and Eli have been stranded at the embassy since April after fleeing their abusive employer.

Their story began in 2013 when a recruiter for migrant workers came to their villages, looking for young men to work on a Taiwanese fishing vessel.

The recruiter had not told the men where they would be fishing or what role they would have on the boat.

Ali, who along with Nendi, hails from the village of Bayalangu-Kidul in the district of Cirebon, West Java, said he was offered a monthly pay of Rp 2.4 million ($193), as well as a $15 bonus for each ton the fishing boat catches.

“My plan was to work [at sea] for two years and use the money to start a business back home,” Ali, who had never worked at sea before, told the Globe.

Ali said that he and Nendi agreed to the recruiter’s terms, lured by the handsome pay, which was considerably more than what they could expect to earn back in Cirebon.

The recruiter paid for their travel expenses departing from Jakarta to Lima via Kuala Lumpur and Amsterdam.

The four arrived in the Peruvian capital in October 2013.

Once in Peru they found they would not be working for a Taiwanese vessel as promised, but a Chinese one.

There were 29 crew members on board, mainly from Vietnam and China. Two other Indonesians were part of the crew, although one had been sent home due to illness after only a few days at sea.

The other Indonesian worker went on to work for another fishing vessel.

During their six months at sea, Ali claimed to have worked long hours, from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. Some days saw them working until 11 a.m.

They were fed plain rice drenched in broth, with occasional biscuits or Chinese buns for snacks.

The four claimed they were often beaten by their captain and deck bosses.

“Honestly, sometimes we had to steal food to get a decent meal. Back home, we would never do that,” Nendi said.

“Forget about asking for an overtime bonus, they didn’t even pay our monthly salary,” Hipdon continued. “I worked for six months and not once was I paid.”

“I called and asked my family back home; they also didn’t receive anything from our employer.”

After six months, the four planned to leave. They fled as soon as the ship made shore in Chimbote, Peru’s biggest shipping town, 420 kilometers north of Lima.

The four then sold all their belongings, including their mobile phones and extra clothing, to pay for the eight-hour bus trip to the capital city.

Once they arrived, they headed to the Indonesian embassy, looking for protection and a way back home.

Arya Putubaya, an Indonesian embassy staffer who has been accompanying the four since their escape, said it was not that simple.

“We have asked Jakarta to send [the embassy] money to send them back to Indonesia. But so far [Jakarta] has not sent us anything,” Arya said.

Arya added that all the embassy could do is partition an unused section of the office’s library so the four would have a place to sleep.

Tantan Rahmansyah, another staffer at the embassy, said their case is not unique. The Indonesian embassy in Lima has so far repatriated 20 Indonesian fishermen, all suffering similar fates.

More than 11 percent of Indonesians live in poverty, which leaves them open to a modern form of slavery, said the Walk Free Foundation, a global human rights group dedicated to ending modern slavery, in its “2014 Global Slavery Index” released last month.

Indonesia ranked eighth in the index, with 0.28 percent of the country’s population (or as many as 714,000) considered slaves, namely children who have been denied education after being forced to work or marry early; men unable to leave their work due to debts; and women and girls exploited as unpaid and abused domestic workers.

So-called brokers operating in rural areas are known to trick men and boys into forced labor, the report says, as well as luring women and under-age girls to work as domestic workers or even as commercial sex workers.These middlemen often break the law by sending undocumented workers or underage children by forging passports to conceal their age.

The rampant practice is placing migrant workers at increased risk of experiencing modern slavery, particularly through work performed under the threat of deportation.

The report noted that Indonesia appears to have a strong resolve to end slavery on paper, but that measures are often poorly implemented or are hampered by high levels of corruption.

Yet there may still be hope for the four stranded in Lima.

Nusron Wahid, head of the Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers, commonly known as BNP2TKI, says he is seeking to repatriate as many as 1.8 million Indonesians who are stuck abroad without work permits.

“There will be a discussion on bringing back 1.8 million illegal migrant workers who do not have a work contract, and we will use the state budget to do it,” Nusron said, although he did not elaborate on a likely cost.

He added the discussion would involve several ministries and cover technical details of the planned repatriation, including legal issues in countries where undocumented Indonesians work.

Nusron said a total of 6.2 million Indonesians were working overseas, consisting of nearly 4.4 million documented workers in addition to the undocumented.

The International Labor Organization, however, estimates that the number of Indonesians working overseas is at least double the documented figure.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though, is hesitant in supporting the BNP2TKI’s plan, with the minister saying that even she was unsure of the high 1.8 million unregistered figure.

“I don’t dare to say whether [the figure] could be more or less. I will first need information from our representative offices [abroad],” Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Thursday.

“Our representative offices don’t have any data on Indonesian citizens who don’t report or register with us.”

Retno said data accuracy was necessary before the planned repatriation could take place, adding it was needed to obtain exit permits from authorities where the workers were stationed.

She added that she had discussed the matter with the coordinating minister for human empowerment and culture, Puan Maharani, and that they would follow up on the issue.

But even if the plan is given the green light, the 1.2 million unregistered Indonesian workers in the neighboring country of Malaysia would likely be given priority.

Malaysia has set Dec. 31 as the deadline for illegal foreign workers to leave the country, and its Home Ministry has proposed caning as punishment for agents found guilty of bringing in the illegal workers as well as immigration officers and other personnel involved.

Repatriating workers in Malaysia is also considerably cheaper than sending Hipdon, Ali, Nendi and Eli back home — a one way ticket from Peru to Indonesia starts at Rp 15 million.

Under President Joko Widodo, Indonesia appears to have shown a greater commitment to providing better protection for migrant workers

Nusron was installed last month to replace Gatot Abdullah Mansyur who had been in office for only seven months.

The replacement comes just weeks after the Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri leaped over a fence during a raid on a house used by a migrant worker placement agency in Jakarta. There, Hanif found an “inhuman” shelter crammed with workers and promptly shut the company down for violating regulations.

The minister has pledged to audit all migrant worker placement agencies in a bid to crack down on widespread extortion and exploitation of some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

The Indonesian embassy in Lima said that they have called on Jakarta to bring down the recruitment agency responsible for exploiting the four Indonesians stranded in Peru.

But of the five agencies they have identified in previous cases, only one, Mahkota Ulfa Sejahtera, was raided by authorities.

Hipdon said he only has one wish: “I want to go home. I want to pay respects at my father’s grave. But I have no money.

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