Asia - Pacific

Indonesian workers in Malaysia face uncertain fate amid virus

Malaysia, main destination for Indonesian migrant workers, hosting almost one-third of total Indonesians working abroad

Pizaro Gozali Idrus  | 03.04.2020 - Update : 03.04.2020
Indonesian workers in Malaysia face uncertain fate amid virus


An Indonesian woman’s dream to have a better life by working as a migrant worker in Malaysia is gone.

The Malaysian government's decision to impose coronavirus measures, called the Movement Control Order (MCO), prevent 37-year-old Yes’a, who goes by only one name, to get her first salary.

The migrant worker from the Madura island in East Java province has just started working on March 1 as a janitor at a fitness center in Kuala Lumpur.

But as of March 18, the MCO was issued to stem the spread of COVID-19. The situation forced the fitness center she works at to close immediately. Unfortunately, the woman has not received her salary yet.

"I have nothing now. I don't even have food," Yes'a told Anadolu Agency over the phone on Thursday.

The woman said she felt lost as she only lives alone in Malaysia, without any relatives and friends.

"I don't know, sir. I am confused about what to do," she said when asked about what she would do until the restrictions are over.

Yes'a is a widow with four children who left for Malaysia in February to support her family. She was supposed to be paid RM700 ($160).

"My children are still so young and I have very old parents to support," she said, explaining the reason she migrated to the neighboring country.

Yes’a was not alone. Muhtozi, 43, another Indonesian migrant worker, faced a similar uncertain fate.

The man who came from Bojonegoro, East Java province, now has no income due to the government’s restrictions since he relied on daily wages as a construction worker in Selangor, Malaysia.

He received RM65 ($14) daily in exchange for 8 hours of working. He usually sent the money to his hometown to support his wife and two children.

But, the situation has changed, and the COVID-19 measures led to long lay-offs.

Muhtozi said he could not send money to his family anymore, and he did not get any logistical support from his employer.

"Never mind sending money home, I even do not have anything to eat anymore," he added.

The man now lives in a temporary house provided by the company.

He is now relying on supports from fellow Indonesian citizens in Malaysia, and has to share it with eight other migrant workers facing the same fate.

"I ask for help from the Indonesian government to pay attention to us," said Muhtozi.

United to raise funds

Hardjito, 43, an Indonesian journalist living in Malaysia, said he was moved to raise funds for unfortunate migrant workers.

He said a lot of migrant workers live without income since their employers are facing financial constraints.

It was revealed when they reported to him their unfortunate financial condition due to the government's policy.

"They sent photos of their children who lacked food," Hardjito told Anadolu Agency.

Together with the Community of Indonesian Muslims in Kuala Lumpur, he took initiative to raise funds to ease the burden on the migrant workers and collected RM30 ($6) from one donor.

"We are incorporated in a parent organization initiated by the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. There are dozens of organizations that help the Red Cross in Malaysia," he explained.

Hardjito and his fellow Indonesians have collected RM17,000 ($3,900).

"We distributed the donation to migrant workers who work at odd jobs," he said.

According to data from the Indonesian Agency for the Placement and Protection of Migrant Workers, Malaysia was the main destination country for Indonesian migrant workers, with 90,671 or almost one-third of the total Indonesians working abroad.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Agency reported 11,566 migrant workers in Malaysia returning home due to COVID-19 measures.

Government supply logistics

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry said that it had sent more than 3,000 packages of support to its citizens in Malaysia.

The ministry’s Director of Citizens Protection Judha Nugraha said Indonesians who work as daily workers are the most affected by the MCO, while workers with permanent employers are in better condition.

"Based on observations of Indonesian representatives in six regions of Malaysia, the impact of movement control orders is felt most by Indonesian citizens who work as casual daily laborers," said Nugraha at a press conference in Jakarta, adding that the Indonesian government had sent 3,143 aid packages, and prepared 3,000 additional packages.

The MCO prohibits its citizens from traveling abroad and closing all shops, except those that sell food and daily necessities, to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Under the order, mass gatherings, including religious, sports and socio-cultural events are prohibited.

On Wednesday, the country extended the coronavirus measures for another two weeks, until April 14, according to the state-run Bernama news agency.

Spread of COVID-19

Since appearing in Wuhan, China, last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 181 countries and regions, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

The data shows more than one million cases have been reported worldwide so far, with the global death toll nearing 54,000, and over 217,000 recoveries.

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