New Gateway: Passengers pass a security check at the newly opened Terminal 3 at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport which, for the time being, is only servicing two airlines – Air Asia and Mandala Airlines. JP/Multa Fidrus
Troubled migrant workers have cried out against rampant extortion and sexual harassment at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on their return to Indonesia.
Marwa Yati, a migrant worker who was employed in Syria, was stranded at the airport for weeks since she had no money left to buy a plane ticket to her home village in Central Sulawesi.
After her two-year working contract ended, Marwa arrived in Jakarta penniless. She said she had been a victim of fraud at the hands of her agent and received no pay for all her work.
Marwa had spent more than two weeks in Terminal 4 after her remaining Indonesian money was given to officers at the special terminal. The National Agency for Labor Placement and Protection (BNP2TKI) has given her three food coupons a day, each worth Rp 8,000 (less than US$1).
Marwa failed to convince BNP2TKI of her case and has nobody to help her get home.
"My child offered to send me money to buy a ticket, but I told to him it was too expensive at Rp 2 million for one-way ticket to Sulawesi, *unless you buy it outside*" she said.
Marwa had previously filed her complaint many times at a center in Pasar Rebo, East Jakarta, concerning abuse she endured during her placement, however, the center had apparently refused to believe her.
"I went to the center and they told me they could not deal with me. *So* I said I was going to the Manpower Ministry and I asked for a letter. They told me to wait and not to go the ministry and to take a nap instead. I told them they could not sit on my complaint. I was abused for four months there," she told Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar and his entourage when they made a snap inspection of the migrant worker terminal.
"They said it was my fault for staying there two years. But, for me, it is not my mistake but the fault of the labor export company that sponsored my departure," she said.
Marwa was one dozens of troubled migrant workers who filed complaints that day. The center receives at least 30 complaints every day, but most are unable to get quick responses either from employers or related authorities.
The center only responds once migrant worker activists learn of migrants' stories and troubles. Unlike Marwa, some migrant workers return with loads of money. Such people are sitting ducks in Terminal 4 and are often forced to exchange their real or dollars with rupiah at low exchange rates, said Elly Anita, a former migrant worker who is now an activist in Migrant Care, an NGO providing advocacy for troubled migrant workers.
"I saw a migrant worker from Bandung who tried to hide her money in her underwear. Several people had found out and forced her to exchange it with rupiah. She came to us and we went straight to the police to make a report, but she decided not to go through with the process because they were not sure if police would process the case," she said.
Migrant Care executive director Anis Hidayah, who was among the minister's entourage, said officers at the terminal were liars because the extortion was committed in a systemic manner.
"*The workers* do not voluntarily exchange their money, but are forced and intimidated to do so. With these workers having rupiah to spend on souvenirs and other stuff, businesses in the terminal is thriving. So they are a kind of business syndicate that systematically extorts *migrant workers*," she said.
Anis questioned why a money changer offering a low rate was positioned precisely behind the terminal's waiting room, when a state-onwed bank was a long way from the terminal.
More than 1,000 migrant workers return to Indonesia via the terminal every day. The complaints center receives around 100 complaints on a daily basis, ranging from sexual harassments and rape to unpaid salaries, abuse and other violence. However, the cases are often shelved once migrant workers get insurance claims and can afford flights home.
Muhaimin declined to allow workers to leave the airport via Terminal 2 (which is for general passengers) because the terminal was deemed prone to extortion. "It would be better to isolate the workers' problem," he said.
Muhaimin said he was considering posting supervisors at the terminal to ensure better service for returning workers and troubled ones.
Rieke Diyah Pitaloka, a member of House's Commission IX on labor and health affairs, said the terminal should be closed down to allow the public to scrutinize the safety of returning workers.