by | Aug 7, 2020 | Migrant Workers, Report and Publication

Press Statement – Coalition of Sovereign Migrant Workers and the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission

“Indonesian migrant workers were massively deported after cruel and inhuman detention in Sabah, Malaysia (December 2019-June 2020).”


We investigated the condition of Indonesian migrant workers who were massively deported after cruel and inhuman detention in Sabah, Malaysia between December 2019 to June 2020. We found systematic violations of human rights against the migrants that have occurred for many years. Such violations took place systematically and on an immense scale.

More than 900 undocumented migrant workers were deported between June and July 2020. They have survived torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment at the Temporary Detention Centre in Sabah while waiting for the procedural administration of their deportation process with some waiting since December 2019.

With limited mobility and access to the deportees, we tried to communicate and collect information from several institutions, including the Indonesian Consulate in Tawau, Sabah and local government bodies in Indonesia. Field investigations and in-depth interviews were carried out during June and July 2020 as the deportees arrived at the Port of Parepare in South Sulawesi. 

We met and interviewed 33 deportees (17 men, 15 women and 1 child) who were repatriated to Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), and West Nusa Tenggara (NTB). We also met with five children between the ages of 9 months and 4 years. They were arrested, detained, imprisoned, tortured and treated in other cruel, inhumane and degrading manner at the Temporary Detention Centres in Sabah before being deported to Indonesia. Testimonies from these deportees demonstrate a clear pattern that the practice of torture and punishment or inhumane and degrading treatment at the temporary detention centre occurred massively and systematically for a long period of time. 

The prolonged detention in the temporary detention centre is due to complicated and inefficient deportation administrative procedures, both in Sabah and Indonesia. It was exacerbated by the Indonesian government’s policy when it halted the deportation process, especially by the Provincial Government of North Kalimantan on the grounds of not having sufficient funds to carry out COVID-19 handling procedures to avoid the spread of the virus when receiving deportees in the border area on Nunukan Island.

Our investigation shows that there are serious violations of the human rights of migrants because they have to endure the cruel and inhumane conditions at the detention centre for longer periods. The policy of postponing deportation has resulted in detained migrant workers, some of whom are women, children and the elderly, being subjected to extended torture and degrading treatment, even though they have served prison terms and legally free to return home.

This investigation identified several key problems that had arisen in both Sabah, Malaysia and Indonesia.  

In Sabah, our key findings are: (1) deportees were treated cruelly and inhumanely at the temporary detention centres; (2) prolonged detention due to inefficient bureaucracy has caused thousands of migrants deprived of their liberty for unacceptable reasons; (3) temporary detention centre became an institution of torture for years; and (4) this inhumane situation was also experienced by women and children, including pregnant women, resulting in multiple harmful impacts.

The deportees told us that:

“We are treated like animals. After the prison sentence was over and while waiting for the deportation process at the immigration depo, we were treated like animals. The ‘red house’ [temporary detention centre] is like hell. Most of us at the detention experience all kinds of diseases. ” (XYZ, deportee from Adonara, East Nusa Tenggara).

“At every six o’clock in the morning we have to wake up. The block leader would shout to tell us to line up and count. One row of 10 people each. We have to say ‘good morning Cikgu [teacher]’, then the officer will say: ‘hands behind, head down!’ Anyone who made a mistake was punched and kicked. Every time we get hit, we have to say ‘thank you, Cikgu’. Otherwise we will be beaten continuously. So, we were treated truly like animals. We have to call the officers as Cikgu, if we don’t, we will be beaten.” (ABC, deportee from Lembata, East Nusa Tenggara).

“In the temporary detention centre, almost all are affected by serious skin diseases [dermatitis]. The water is dirty and smelly. Even then it was hardly available. We often did not shower for three days. The food provided is often still raw, the chicken still has a little blood. The food is usually not cooked properly. Once, we were not given food until late afternoon.” (KLN, female deportee from Pinrang, South Sulawesi).

“I wanted to take a shower once but the water in the shower rarely came out. Often there was no water for up to three days. We usually have to save water in a mineral water bottle. If we want to take a shower, we often have to be drawn to get a turn. We were rationed only two bottles of mineral water (only 2-liter of water).” (DDHK, 10-year-old deportee from Ende, NTT).

The deportees who were detained at the detention centre also experienced violence, extortion, confiscation of personal belongings, violations of the right to health, the right to a fair trial, and exploitation of child detainees. Inadequate conditions and facilities at the detention centres have resulted in the majority of detained migrant workers, including women, children, and the elderly, suffering from various mental health and other illnesses.

Facilities at the detention centre failed to meet the needs of vulnerable groups (women, pregnant women, children and elderly). One of the testimonies of the female deportee stated:

“Between February to June 2020, I saw three women giving birth at a block where I was detained. I have seen babies born safely without the help of officers, let alone doctors or nurses. The babies are very small, it must be due to malnutrition. ” (GWS, women deportee from Flores, East Nusa Tenggara).

Meanwhile in Indonesia, the key findings of our investigation are: (1) lack of coordination among government institutions to respond to the deportation processes and (2) the lack of coordination in anticipating the wave of massive deportation has resulted in the emergence of serious problems. These problems include: (a) there are no medical facilities available at the BP2MI (Migrant Workers’ Protection Agency) in Makassar, South Sulawesi, even though many deportees were ill; (b) mental health treatment services are not provided at the shelter despite many survivors experiencing depression and trauma; (c) the shelter was insufficient to accommodate a large number of deportees; and (d) facilities for children and deportees with special needs are not available at the shelter.

The root of these problems is the failure of the Indonesian government, both central and local, to see the condition of the deportees as torture survivors and people who suffer from violence.

In contrast to the position of the Indonesian government which sees the facts of violence and torture in the detention centres in Sabah as mere individual cases, our findings show that there have been systematic violations of human rights that have occurred against thousands of migrant workers over many years. The impunity for the perpetrators of human rights violations, both in Sabah and in Indonesia, has occurred for a long time and it must end immediately.

Therefore, we strongly condemn all forms of torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment at the temporary detention centres in Sabah, which has been occurring for many years. We also urge the governments of Sabah, Malaysia and Indonesia to carry out systematic reforms and efforts to stop violence and torture against migrant workers in Sabah.

Specifically, we urge the Malaysian government to:

1)     Make systematic efforts to stop and prevent mass torture and other cruel treatment by the state that takes place in the detention centres;

2)     Ensure regular access for trusted human rights institutions to implement monitoring mechanisms at the temporary detention centres;

3)     Simplify the deportation administration procedure and make it more efficient to avoid prolonged detention;

4)     Conduct a series of investigations into the perpetrators of violence in the detention centre and punish perpetrators in order to end impunity;

5)     Reform the legal system to provide protection for all migrant workers working in Malaysia and stop the criminalisation of undocumented migrant workers.

As for the Indonesian government, we urge the government to:

1)     Simplify the deportation administration procedure, and make it more efficient to avoid prolonged detention in the detention centres;

2)     Provide protection for all migrant workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the need for deportation that respects human rights principles and is oriented towards fulfilling and protecting the rights of migrant workers;

3)     Provide protection facilities in transit areas or at the entrances of the border for deportees;

4)     Understand and treat deportees as survivors of torture and cruel treatment, by observing and fulfilling the need for medical treatment, protection, and psycho-social recovery and rehabilitation from mental stress, including the specific needs of vulnerable groups such as women, children and the elderly;

5)     Stop considering or justifying the systematic practice of torture in detention centres in Sabah based on Malaysian law and ASEAN political diplomacy of non-interference principle.

Jakarta, August 5, 2020

·         National Human Rights Commission, Republic of Indonesia

·         Coalition of Sovereign Migrant Workers


Contact person:

Musdalifah Jamal

Coordinator of Sovereign Migrant Workers Coalition

Phone: +6285299615000


About the Sovereign Migrant Workers Coalition:

The Sovereign Migrant Workers Coalition is a civil society movement that is concerned with the issues of fulfilling and protecting the rights of Indonesian migrant workers. The coalition was initially established as a response to the various conditions faced by Indonesian migrant workers in the COVID-19 Pandemic situation.

PDF version (English): click here

Presentation of fact finding results, click here (available in Bahasa Indonesia only)

Press conference video (short version with English subs)

Full video of Press Conference (available in Bahasa Indonesia only)

Pin It on Pinterest