In nationwide crackdown, Indonesian police arrest 500-plus human trafficking suspects

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
In nationwide crackdown, Indonesian police arrest 500-plus human trafficking suspects Indonesian migrant workers attend a May Day rally in Hong Kong, May 1, 2018.
[Dale De La Rey/AFP]

Indonesian police said Wednesday they had arrested 532 suspects in a nationwide crackdown against human trafficking operations that victimized more than 1,500 people, most of whom were lured with false promises of overseas jobs.

The police task force on human trafficking conducted raids across the country from June 5 to June 19, following hundreds of tip-offs from the public, national police spokesman Ahmad Ramadhan said. Most of the cases involved women who were recruited as migrant workers or domestic help to work in other countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.

“Of the more than one thousand victims, 711 were adult women and 86 girls. There were also 731 adult men and 44 boys,” he told journalists, adding most of them did not have the proper papers or protections required by Indonesian law for overseas workers.

Authorities were still investigating 83 cases, prosecuting 347 cases and had completed one case with a conviction, he said.

During a meeting on Tuesday of senior police officials from across Southeast Asia, Indonesian police chief Sigit Listyo Prabowo described human trafficking as a serious challenge in the region.

He said he hoped that the meeting in Yogyakarta would result in more cooperation and safeguards for Indonesian workers abroad, according to a statement from the police

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest source countries for migrant workers, with an estimated 9 million citizens working abroad in 2017, according to the World Bank. Only about 4.7 million of these workers are officially registered by the labor protection agency, leaving the rest vulnerable to exploitation by illegal syndicates.

Most of the Indonesian migrants are women who work for low wages in sectors such as domestic service, construction and agriculture and manufacturing. They mainly go to Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. 

In late May, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to crack down on human trafficking syndicates after a government agency revealed that nearly 2,000 Indonesian workers had died in the past three years due to mistreatment, accidents and illnesses after being sent abroad via illicit means.

Jokowi and Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, during talks in Kuala Lumpur this month, “agreed to establish a special bilateral mechanism to resolve problems of Indonesian migrant workers,” the Indonesian leader said.

Wahyu Susilo, the executive director of Migrant Care, an NGO that advocates for migrant workers’ rights, welcomed the police’s actions but hoped they would not be short-lived.

He called on the police to expose the national network of the traffickers and their protectors within the security apparatus.

“It would be very helpful if this disclosure could explain or illustrate the national chain of command and investigate the alleged involvement of officials and their backers,” Susilo told BenarNews.

Another expert expressed cynicism about recent crackdowns

The arrests were an attempt to boost the government’s image ahead of the end of its term in 2024, said Trubus Rahardiansyah, a public policy expert at Trisakti University in Jakarta.

“Many people think that this is just for show. They start strong but end weak,” he told BenarNews.

Arresting traffickers was not enough to solve the problem, he said. In his view, there should also be strict law enforcement that would deter them from committing crimes again.

“Once they are in prison, they will collude with the police again. Corruption is rampant because of the money involved in human trafficking. It has to stop,” Trubus said.

He also urged the government to take preventive measures to address human trafficking, including by forming a special commission involving experts, activists and security officials under the president’s supervision.

“It should include representatives from different fields and operate with openness and responsibility,” he said.

“That’s what should be done if the government is serious.”


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