Ryan Dagur – The Indonesian government is to expedite the repatriation of illegal migrant workers held in Malaysian detention centers in response to a report by an advocacy group that said the detainees were being held in "hellish" conditions.
In a June 29 statement, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry said it had contacted Malaysian authorities and requested that the repatriation process be carried out immediately at the expense of the Indonesian government.
"It was also conveyed that the conditions of detention centers should be improved in terms of access to health and sanitation facilities," the statement said.
The ministry said the Indonesian consulate in Sabah would increase monitoring visits and assistance regarding clothing, food, medicines, medical equipment and Covid-19 tests in the repatriation process.
The plight of these detainees – estimated to number nearly 4,000 – came under the spotlight after a report from the Coalition of Sovereign Migrant Workers said the deportees were being subjected to violence, such as being whipped with rattans, beaten and kicked, while their living conditions were described as overcrowded, dirty and without sunlight.
The report, titled: "As in Hell: Conditions of the Immigration Detention Center in Sabah, Malaysia," released last week also said that sick detainees were neglected and that "detainees will only be taken to the hospital when their condition is very serious."
It also said 18 detainees have died since 2020 until March this year at one of the five detention centers in Sabah.
One of the victims was Suardi who, according to witnesses, was beaten by guards in front of other detainees before being placed in solitary confinement handcuffed. He was reported dead in January last year.
In a statement, the Malaysian embassy in Indonesia confirmed the death of 18 detainees in one camp last year, and that there were an additional seven detainee deaths this year, but did not specify their cause of death.
Gabriel Goa Sola, director of the church-linked Advocacy Service for Justice and Peace in Indonesia, said that apart from saving the detainees, what is also important is how the government tackles the illegal migrant worker issue.
"Illegal migrant workers are an old issue but handling it is still inadequate," he said.
According to the Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Agency, 5.3 million out of 9 million Indonesian migrant workers are illegal.
The predominantly Christian province of East Nusa Tenggara is a major source of illegal migrant workers, the majority of whom work in Malaysia.