October 30, 2011
The Manpower and Transmigration Ministry and the Consulate General in Jeddah are repatriating Indonesians in Saudi Arabia who have overstayed their visas, but experts warn this could set a bad precedent.
A ministry spokesman, Suhartono, said the first step was to gather information on the Indonesian nationals and inspect their paperwork, to ensure that none of those being repatriated had legal problems in Saudi Arabia.
“Preliminary data from the consulate shows there are 1,616 Indonesian nationals ready to be sent home,” he said. “We will reconfirm that figure with the consulate and Saudi immigration authorities.”
Suhartono said that based on information from government-issued travel documents, there were 4,267 Indonesian nationals who had overstayed their visas. Most, he added, were staying in shelters in Medina and were being sent home by Saudi authorities.
The flights home are being funded by the ministry, which together with the Coordinating Ministry for People’s Welfare estimated the cost of repatriation at $149 per person.
“We hope this is the last time we will need to bring home our nationals,” Suhartono said.
The ministry plans to bring home the Indonesians on Sunday and today, using aircraft that had been leased to carry pilgrims going on the hajj to Mecca. The repatriated Indonesians will be accompanied by officials from several ministries and the migrant worker supervisory agency.
Suhartono said the Social Services Ministry would pay to transport everyone to their hometowns after they landed.
Migrant Care, a nongovernmental organization, welcomed the decision to pay to bring home Indonesians who were in Saudi Arabia illegally. However, it called on the government to crack down on people trafficking syndicates that continued to send Indonesians to Saudi Arabia illegally and leave them stranded there.
A Migrant Care labor policy analyst, Wahyu Susilo, said the traffickers’ reach extended to migrant worker placement firms, pilgrimage travel firms and the offices of some Indonesian companies in Saudi Arabia.
He said that if the government did not address the issue, the repatriation program could just end up encouraging more Indonesians to seek work illegally in Saudi Arabia. “Migrant workers won’t be concerned about overstaying their visas because they will get a free flight home courtesy of this government program,” he said.
Many Indonesians seek employment in Saudi Arabia without going through formal migrant worker recruitment firms or placement programs, but instead enter the country as hajj pilgrims and don’t return home. They are forced to seek informal work and many end up homeless, living on the streets or under bridges and elevated roads.
Wahyu said Saudi authorities had a part to play in addressing this problem by punishing Saudis who employed Indonesian nationals without going through the formal recruitment process.
“Indonesian workers would not choose to stay illegally in Saudi Arabia if the demand from Saudi nationals for their services did not exist in the first place,” he said.
(as read in the JG)