The condition of deported Indonesian migrants during the period of Covid-19 from Sabah, Malaysia to Indonesia (June 2019-September 2020) [Fact-Finding Report]

by | Jan 27, 2021 | Report and Publication

Report Summary: 

This report is the result of an investigation by the fact-finding team from the Koalisi Buruh Migran Berdaulat(KBMB) on the deportation process of more than 1,700 Indonesian migrant workers during the Covid-19 pandemic from Sabah, Malaysia to Indonesia. The report’s findings refer to the period of June to September 2020, but they are not limited to this time period. The repatriation wave of Indonesian migrant workers and their families, the majority of whom are oil palm plantation workers, is still ongoing at the time of this writing. Furthermore, the situation is not new, as this deportation process has been ongoing for years and is part of Sabah’s migration regime, which relies on a huge amount of undocumented and therefore vulnerable migrant workers. 

This investigation’s findings of human rights violations have occurred systematically and massively against thousands of migrant workers over the years. The willful misconduct by official perpetrators has been ongoing for years. The Temporary Detention Centers (PTS), where migrants are held before being repatriated, are institutions of torture, mistreatment, and abuse. Severe human rights violations were and are carried out every day. 

This institutional violence is a problem not only inherent of the migration regime but a product of it. The current migration regime in Sabah creates and continues to maintain irregular migration by only allowing legal working quotas which are far from the number of low skill labourers needed, for example on palm oil plantations. Accordingly, the number of undocumented workers stays high due to demand (in fact, they make up the majority of palm oil workers in Sabah) but they are nonetheless punished as criminals. The abuse experienced in this process unfolds in stories of violence and terror among migrant workers. The fear of being detained hence leaves workers vulnerable to being exploited by their employers. As a consequence, the migrant regime can be used to carry out effective control over undocumented workers, not only by the state but also by the companies which use it as threat and disciplinary action. This is reflected in the fact that only migrants working illegally in the country are punished systematically but not their employers, the plantation owners. Even though employers could theoretically be punished for employing more than five irregular migrants at the same time, in reality the research team has never heard of any case where a big plantation company has been fined. In very few cases, this has happened to small plantations. 

The findings of the investigation show:

·       Since the arrest, investigation, and trial, almost none of fair trial principles have been fulfilled by the authorities in Sabah, Malaysia. No deported migrant had ever been accompanied by a lawyer or legal advisor. Before court, all the defendant has is only a choice to admit the wrongdoing, and none of the deported migrants have ever received their court files or documents. 

·       Deported migrants detained at the PTS experience various kinds of inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. 

·       Deported migrants detained at the PTS experience extortion, seizure of property, and exploitation of child deported migrants.

·       The cramped situation in detention facilities makes migrants vulnerable to Covid-19. It causes them to suffer from various kinds of physical illness and mental health issues. Among the detainees were women, children and the elderly; the detention facilities do not provide facilities and special assistance for pregnant women. 

·       The delay in deportation confines migrants – who have already served their sentences for immigration violations, and therefore should be free people – for a prolonged time in the PTS in Sabah. 

·       The information collected indicates that various kinds of inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment in PTS in Sabah are not isolated individual cases, but have been going on routinely for years, making thousands of migrant workers its victims. 

The problem did not stop when the detainees, after a complex and inefficient deportation administration process, were deported to Indonesia through the port of Nunukan. The failure of the Indonesian government to anticipate such a large wave of deportation of migrant workers, including weak coordination between provincial governments and between agencies, resulted in:

·       An overload on the Indonesian Migrant Protection Body (BP2MI), which seems to have been left alone with limited resources and unable to access any additional resources outside its authority.

·       Lack of health facilities for the deported migrants during the repatriation process, and no mental health services.

·       Deported migrants from East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) waiting for many days at the BP2MI shelter in Makassar, South Sulawesi, instead of being repatriated immediately to their village of origin

·       No facilities in the shelter for children and elderly who need special treatments.

·       Lack of special services and treatments for exhausted and terrified migrants who are experiencing psychological problems, as victims of violence and inhuman punishment. 

Based on these findings, KBMB urges the Malaysian government to take the necessary steps including policy, legal, and administrative reforms, and allocate resources needed for service improvement, in order to:

·       Immediately stop all forms of violence, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment.

·       Prevent prolonged detention and ensure a swift deportation process and respect all the inherent rights of all deported migrants. 

·       Ensure all deportation processes consider the deported migrants’ health condition by taking the principles of human safety into account.

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