More than 250 foreign migrants believed to be Bangladeshis are likely to be expelled from Indonesia, after being detained in North Sumatra province because they failed to show authorities valid travel documents, the local immigration chief said Thursday.
Among the scores of men rounded up and held after raids in Medan city on Tuesday, as many as 193 were found huddling within the cramped confines of a two-story shop-house, where they allegedly had been living for several months in squalid conditions and with little food.
The other 59 were found in a separate location in Medan on Wednesday, said Icon Siregar, head of the provincial immigration department.
“It is likely they will be deported to their country, after the investigation is complete,” Icon told BenarNews. “Our preliminary finding is that they are all Bangladeshi – as can be inferred from their physical features, language and accent – and all are adult men.”
Bangladeshi government representatives in Jakarta and Dhaka said they could not immediately verify the men’s nationalities, but planned to send officials to North Sumatra to investigate.
“They [the Indonesians] informed us that the rescued people had Bangladeshi passports. But we are not sure whether they are Bangladeshis,” Azmal Kabir, Dhaka’s ambassador to Jakarta, told BenarNews on Thursday.
“They may hold fake passports. Once we get the passports, we will send those to the home ministry via the foreign ministry for verification of their identities by the police,” he said.
Delwar Hossain, who heads the Southeast Asia desk at Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry, said the embassy had notified his office about the mass detention.
“We do not have details about them. But they may be Rohingya, not Bangladeshi. They may have illegal Bangladeshi passports,” he told Benar.
However, the 253 foreigners were not carrying any travel documents when authorities took them into custody, although it appeared they had entered Indonesia with tourist visas through airports in Bali, Jakarta and Yogyakarta, Icon said.
The men told the officers that their passports were kept by suspected overseas labor agents who had arranged their travel.
“According to their admission they wanted to work in Malaysia. They do not intend to work in Indonesia,” Icon said.
Icon, the immigration chief in North Sumatra, said he suspected that the men were in transit while travelling illegally to Malaysia to find work, because Medan is close to the neighboring country.
“Their documents have not been found. They said they had passports but they couldn’t show them,” he added.
Rohingya, Nepalese in the Crowd: Witness
Meanwhile, a Bangladeshi national who works as a chef at a hotel in nearby Penang, Malaysia, said he spoke to at least 10 of the detained men. They were in a crowd of some 100 foreigners who were sitting out in the street in rows, and whom he encountered while visiting Medan on Wednesday.
The men he spoke to told him there were 55 Bangladeshis among them and the rest were made up of Rohingya Muslims and other people from Myanmar, as well as Nepalese.
“All these people were working in Malaysia. Some of them are legal workers, most are illegal,” witness Adid Shorful Maklukat, 32, told BenarNews by phone from Medan on Thursday.
“They were trying to go Australia,” he said, adding that the men told him they had each paid agents up to 20,000 Malaysian ringgit (U.S. $4,909) to take them Down Under.
In Jakarta, a spokesman on immigration matters at the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, Theodorus Simarmata, said officials were trying to find a labor agency that might have been responsible for recruiting the foreign migrants.
If the foreigners are in fact Bangladeshis, it would not be the first time that people from Bangladesh have been caught in North Sumatra while traveling illicitly to Malaysia, a top destination in Southeast Asia for migrant-workers from the South Asian nation.
In December, 30 Bangladeshis were arrested at Tanjungtiram Port in Batubara regency while trying to board a boat to Malaysia.
In recent years, more than 1,700 people from the persecuted Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar became stranded on Sumatra while heading to a third country. Most of the Rohingya who ended up on the island have since left for Malaysia in search of work, while some have obtained asylum in third countries.
Myanmar considers Rohingya Muslims to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Myanmar’s government systematically discriminates against them and has denied them citizenship. They also do not get access to basic services, such as education and health care.
In recent years, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled or attempted to flee persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar on boats organized by human traffickers and bound for other Southeast Asian nations.
About 720,000 Muslim Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state following a brutal military crackdown that began in August 2017.