Thursday, December 03, 2009

On Indonesia and migration

The name of Conrad Barwa is probably familiar to at least some of you, since there's some overlap between the readerships of Demography Matters and the sadly hiatused Head Heeb. I'd like to thank him for bringing to my attention a recent article from Time, Mark Scliebs' "Rape and the Plight of the Female Migrant Worker". Indonesian female migrants, sadly, are often subject to sexual abuse.

No one knows if 1-year-old Yunus will ever see his mother again. Like 6 million other Indonesians, she traveled far from home to find employment. She was hired by a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia. But one day, while on her boss's property, she went to check on some goats and, according to what is known of her tale, was raped by two men. Yunus was conceived of that assault.

[. . .]

While globalization has turned much of the world into a wide-open labor market, it has also created complex human and societal dramas. Women account for up to 50% of the world's 100 million–strong migrant-worker population — and there is no effective entity to protect their rights and dignity. In 2008, Indonesians working abroad, commonly as domestic staff in the Middle East and parts of Asia, contributed about $6.8 billion to their national economy via remittances, according to the World Bank. And while statistics are difficult to come by, there are increasing reports of many who are physically abused, raped and — in some cases — killed by their employers.

While cases of death at the hands of overseas employers are relatively rare, Normawati says she has seen countless pregnant Indonesians coming through the gates of Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport after working abroad. She says the most disturbing of experiences can be heard again and again from the lips of different women: "The boss tells the woman, 'You must be with me.' Then rape."

[. . .]

The abuse of Indonesian workers in some countries has become so notorious that Jakarta is considering placing bans on labor migration to specific destinations. Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskander says workers may soon be prevented from entering Saudi Arabia and Jordan if a "thorough review" shows that those governments are providing insufficient protections for Indonesian workers.

Indonesia is a rising country. A recent Economist country briefing made the point that the country is a success in the post-Suharto era, with stability as a rambunctious democracy, a strong civil society, and a dynamic economy. Recently, Indonesia has been nominated as a potential candidate for BRIC status, as a country with a national population that already significantly exceeds those of Russia and Brazil and a GDP per capita higher than India's. The Goldman Sachs projections behind the BRIC phenomenon do estimate that by 2050, if all goes well, Indonesia's GDP will exceed that of South Korea and all of the G-7 powers save the United States.

And yet, the country's overlooked. I can only imagine that ignorance about Indonesia stems from lazy assumptions that the country's unstable and a basketcase. The only exception to this I can think of can be found in Australia, where long-standing fears of being invaded, associated with East Timor, and John Marsden's Tomorrow series which sees teenagers fight a guerrilla war against invaders who come from the north, looking for land and resources. All this notwithstanding the exceptional implausibility of such an invasion.

Science-fictional fears of Indonesians aside, the Indonesian population is becoming very mobile. The form of Indonesian migration most familiar to the interested is the very controversial transmigrasi program that saw the sponsored migration of millions from the central and exceedingly populous islands of Java and Madura to relatively low-density areas in places like Borneo and West Papua. Growing internal migration is also a major phenomenon, with long-term migrant labour and rural-urban commuting. As Indonesia becomes globalized, international migration is becoming a major phenomenon for the first time, as Graeme Hugo observed in 2007 at Migration Information. Migration to OECD countries is notable.

The largest community of expatriate Indonesia-born people is in the Netherlands, the country's former colonial ruler. An important component is the aging "Moluccan" group that opted to move to the Netherlands when the Dutch recognized Indonesian independence after 1949.

In 2002, an estimated 137,485 individuals born in Indonesia were living in the Netherlands. There were 264,100 second-generation Indonesians in the Netherlands in 1998, the most recent year for which estimates are available.

The fastest growing Indonesian communities are in the "new" migration countries, led by the United States and followed by Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

In Australia, the number of foreign born from Indonesia increased 40 percent between 2001 and 2005. An important component in this movement has been the number of Indonesian-born students (mainly university level) studying in Australia as well as in other OECD nations. Although the student flow peaked in the year of the financial crisis, the number of students has held steady at around 20,000 per year.

Far more important is the migration of Indonesians into Malaysia, often welcomed because of the ethnic affiliations between Malays and many Indonesian ethnic groups, as often subject to the sort of hostility and mistreatment common to poor workers.

The largest numbers are in neighboring Malaysia, which has a similar language, culture, and religion. Permanent settlement of Indonesians dates back five centuries, but migration was especially significant during colonial times. According to the 2001 Malaysian census, there were 1.38 million foreign born in the country, more than half of them from Indonesia.

However, the scale of recent permanent settlement of Indonesians in Malaysia is not known. Significant numbers of unskilled labor migrants settle permanently in Malaysia, but many do not become legal residents as permanent settlement of unskilled Indonesians is opposed.

The tendency for migrant workers to become permanent or long-term residents has been particularly marked in East Malaysia. The population of the state of Sabah has soared from 697,000 in 1979 to almost 3 million in 2004, and migration from Indonesia and the Philippines) has played a major role in this growth. There are an estimated 100,000 irregular migrants in Sabah and 138,000 in the West Malaysia state of Selangor, the majority of whom are Indonesians.

The expense and danger of detection at the border has encouraged some migrant workers from eastern Indonesia to settle permanently, or on a long-term basis, in Sabah rather than regularly return to their nearby Indonesian homes. One consequence has been an increase in the number of "stateless" Indonesians who have no status in Malaysia and whose Indonesian passports have expired. Some 35,000 Indonesian passports were issued to such "paperless" citizens in Malaysia in the first four months of 2006.

With significant smaller numbers of Indonesian migrants in other Southeast Asian countries, the Middle East is the biggest recipient of Indonesian migrants outside of Indonesia's region. And yes, on account of the exclusion of Indonesians from the social contract, conditions are often dire.

At least 5 thousand Indonesian workers will be repatriated this week from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan. This was decided by the government in Jakarta in response to the increasing instances of harassment and ill-treatment of fellow emigrants. Muhaimin Iskandar, Indonesian Minister of Labour, announced that his country intends to suspend the sending of people seeking employment to the three Middle Eastern states.

In Saudi Arabia alone there are an estimated 600 thousand Indonesian immigrants, 90% of whom are employed as domestic workers, labourers and drivers. Didi Wahyudi, head of the Jakarta consular service to Jeddah, explains that the number of returnees “is limited and represents only 1% of Indonesian workers in the country. But it has become an increasingly significant figure".

The system that regulates the immigration of workers from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, and all Gulf countries except Bahrain, requires the employer to ensure a visa, usually of two years. This procedure puts the immigrants in a state of total dependence on those who employ them thus exposing them to abuse, exploitation and violence.

Didi Wahyudi said that the huge market for domestic workers usually attracts foreigners. An immigrant who arrives in Saudi Arabia to work in this sector receives a top salary of 800 rials per month, about 140 Euros, the minimum set by the Regulations. When they discover that foreign workers can earn up to 2 thousand rials they leave their employers, sometimes even before the expiry of two year visa, and chose to stay in the country as illegal immigrants.

The Saudi newspaper ArabNews says that in the month of September, about a thousand Indonesian immigrants, especially waiters, drivers and unskilled staff, went on trial for illegal residence in the country.

Indonesia might be a plausible candidate BRIC country, but like the four established BRIC countries it remains poor and continued emigration is certain. The question of how Indonesia is to manage its external migration flows and protect its labour diaspora can be expected to become a major question as these migration flows continue to evolve, the characteristics of the mifrant flows change (will Indonesians fill more highly-skilled jobs?) and identities remain in flux.

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