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Indonesia bans workers to the Middle East - Again

On May 24, 2012

The Indonesian government announced that it is once again imposing a travel ban on the nations most incompatible with its new, more vigorous requirements for migrant workers; new workers can not travel to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, pr Syria until concrete labor rights and legal rights for Indonesian citizens are secured. Negotiations between Saudi and Indonesia regarding the rights of domestic workers recently failed after the KSA declined the government’s request for a 60% wage increase. The negotiations were meant to curb earlier schisms between the two nations, including Saudi’s ban on Indonesian domestic workers two months ago.

Indonesia has experimented with travel bans in the past, including against Saudi Arabia. These were lifted after nations promised to institute specific reforms or showed signs of progress. Bans yield an unclear level of effectiveness; some rights organizations demand nations prevent workers from exposure to functionally lawless conditions. However, bans have yet to procure direct change to migrant-related legislation. Despite signed agreements, reforms are still exceedingly slow to implement, and bans are often reversed prior to their full actualization. Additionally, the immediate affect of bans may actually worsen migrant conditions, as desperate workers can always maneuver around travel restrictions. Illegal migrants are at further risk for exploitation because they are unable to report to authorities and must restrict themselves to marginalized employment.

Bans may, over time, contribute to mounting pressure on receiving nations who are swayed by the need for reliable labor flow as well as a positive world image. But the actual impact of bans on the actions of these nations is speculative, as no systematic study regarding their interactions has been conducted.

The new bans come amidst revelations that 130,000 overseas Indonesians (out of an approximately 6.5 million total migrants) are imprisoned. Over 200 face life sentences or death. Indonesia attempted to condition these statistics by emphasizing that the imprisoned population only represents around 1 to 2 percent of all migrant workers. Rights groups hammered the government for disregarding the personal impact of each case on its own citizens, which overshadow such cold calculations. The government’s statements appear to reflect its general management of imprisoned migrants, which with the exception of new SOPs in Malaysia, is approached as an afterthought.