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Drownings call for rethink on the migration rush

JAKARTA (UCAN) : The deaths of at least 14 Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysian waters should propel Indonesia to provide better care and opportunities for its citizens so that they won’t seek work abroad, Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, the secretary of the Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People, suggested on September 4.

“The state must offer job opportunities in places where migrant workers come from so that they will not have to find jobs in other countries,” Father Siswantoko stressed.

Father Siswantoko was speaking on the day after an overcrowded boat carrying undocumented Indonesian migrant workers sank off the coast of Malaysia.

At least 14 people were confirmed dead, with rescue workers searching for additional victims, a statement by the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur says.

Father Siswantoko said that he hopes the tragedy will provide the momentum to change the way Indonesia processes the return of undocumented migrant workers from neighbouring countries. He said that it is ultimately the responsibility of the state to care for its citizens.

“If we talk about who takes the responsibility for the incident, it is the state, of course. The state is given a mandate to provide its people with employment,” he said.

Indonesian migrants working in Malaysia are often forced to travel across dangerous waters separating the two countries in small, overcrowded boats.

Anis Hidayah, from the Jakarta-based Migrant Care, a non-government organisation that assists Indonesian migrant workers with undocumented status, said that they seek informal transportation methods in order to avoid being fined by the Indonesian government or because formal travel is too expensive.

Hidayah called on the governments of both countries to re-evaluate protocols governing the return of undocumented workers in order to avoid future tragedies.

Father Siswantoko said the Church lamented the fact that so many Indonesian citizens still seek jobs abroad without proper documentation. “The question is why do they take an illegal procedure, is it because the legal procedure is too difficult and expensive for them?” he asked.

Nusron Wahid, from the Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers, said the agency may struggle to identify all of the victims, because of their undocumented status.

“This shows how important it is to work according to a proper procedure. If procedures aren’t followed, we find it difficult in tracking them down and fulfilling their rights,” he said.