Nusron’s top priority: Migrant workers on death row

The new head of the Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers (BNP2TKI), Nusron Wahid, will have quite a handful of challenges after taking over for Gatot Abdullah Mansyur.

Elly Burhaini Faizal, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Opinion | Thu, December 04 2014, 10:34 AM

The new head of the Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers (BNP2TKI), Nusron Wahid, will have quite a handful of challenges after taking over for Gatot Abdullah Mansyur.

Inaugurated by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo last Thursday, Nusron now shoulders the burden of keeping Jokowi’s promise of prioritizing the protection of migrant workers, while overcoming criticism that the agency is not doing enough to tackle the exploitation of our “foreign-exchange heroes”.

Nusron, leader of the Ansor Youth Movement (GP Ansor), the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), is a Golkar Party politician who was removed from his post on a key commission in the House of Representatives, allegedly for openly endorsing Jokowi and his running mate, Jusuf Kalla, who is also a senior Golkar politician.

Regarding Nusron’s appointment, Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto cited his role in Jokowi’s presidential election campaign in addition to his concern for migrant workers’ protection. Reports on the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers were taken seriously by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who issued directives in 2011 to better protect their rights.

These included the imposition of a moratorium on sending workers to Saudi Arabia and the issuance of Presidential Decree No.17/2011 that established a task force to protect migrant workers under the threat of the death penalty. Indonesian missions abroad formed special teams tasked with, among other assignments, regularly visiting prisons and providing legal assistance to Indonesian nationals facing legal problems.

The directives were issued following the case of Ruyati binti Satubi, a 54-year-old migrant worker who in June 2011 was beheaded for allegedly killing her Saudi employer. The case triggered public anger after the government said it only found out about the case after the execution.

Critics maintain that protection measures need to be beefed up to end the exploitation of Indonesian workers. Anis Hidayah who leads the Migrant Care NGO said a task force to protect migrant workers from death penalty threats was only an ad hoc measure.

“This is also very wasteful because the task force’s main duties — such as identifying problems of migrant workers facing the death penalty and advocating and providing legal aid to workers undergoing the legal process or facing the death penalty — could have been handled by an Indonesian representative overseas,” she told The Jakarta Post.

Concerns about the plight of migrant workers were raised by the human rights group, Amnesty International in September, which urged the government to pressure the Saudi Arabian government to lighten the sentence handed down to Siti Zainab binti Duhri Rupa, who is on death row for allegedly stabbing her employer to death in 1999.

At the top of Nusron’s to-do list will be addressing death penalty threats currently facing some 280 migrant workers, despite the government’s efforts to protect their rights.

Ongoing reports on discrimination, exploitation and abuse of migrant workers also highlighted disgraceful practices of recruitment, despite Law No.39/2004 on the placement of migrant workers and the ratification of the 1990 UN Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families in May 2012.

The exploitation has persisted even as migrant workers continue to be a boon to their home countries. Last year, overseas remittances by some 6.5 million Indonesian migrant workers totaled Rp 88.6 trillion (US$7.26 billion) from January to December.

The law itself, said the NGO Solidaritas Perempuan (Women’s Solidarity), was aimed primarily at regulating the dispatch of migrant workers by placement agencies rather than establishing a standard mechanism to ensure worker and employer rights and responsibilities.

Of 108 total articles in the law, only four regulate migrant workers’ protection. Many critical roles played by the state — such as worker recruitment — are handed over to private companies. This has allowed scalpers to flourish; consequently, Indonesian migrant workers are seen as economic commodities rather than as Indonesian citizens and human beings entitled to state protection.

In 2004, the draft revision of the law was included in the 2005 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) list. It was included again in the 2009 list, but no progress was made. Discussions on the draft revision began only after the government ratified the Convention on Migrant Workers in 2012, during which Yudhoyono issued a Presidential Mandate appointing several ministries to work together with their counterparts at the House to discuss the law’s revision — with no significant progress made.

Despite efforts by NGOs, the future of the draft revision remains uncertain following the dissension of the House into two groups — the Red-and-White Coalition and the other led by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). Until the division is settled, the President has banned Cabinet ministers and related officials from attending any meetings with House lawmakers.

Without serious efforts to ease the tension, the government will prove for umpteenth time its reluctance to seriously address the discrimination, exploitation and abuse of millions of migrant workers.


The author is a journalist at The Jakarta Post currently attending the MA Journalism Program School at the Loyola Schools of the Ateneo de Manila University in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism.