East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) is an arid land and irrigation is poor. This has meant high unemployment for the province’s residents.
In view of
this, many of them continue to leave in their hundreds seeking work in
neighbouring countries, often without a residence permit, with the risk
of falling into the hands of traffickers or dying on the job without
papers to be repatriated.
Teenagers and young adults are pushed to leave the Flores islands and
Timor for better employment opportunities, especially in Malaysia. Many
of them, however, end up caught up in criminal rings or die on the job.
For John Salukh, who heads the Migrant Workers’ Placement and
Protection Office, work-related deaths are up. this year, "In total, 37
deaths were recorded among migrant workers," he said. Last year, there
were 25. “Only one victim was legal; all the others had false papers."
Some bodies have not been repatriated because they could not be
identified. The Indonesian government is investigating the cause of
death, which may be related to abuse in the workplace.
To sensitise NTT authorities about the problem, a group of Protestant
churches held a joint prayer on Sunday, in Kupang, in front of the
Participants marched, carrying an empty coffin, to symbolise the
rising number of locals who die abroad. "Whether they had the right
papers or not, they were from here,” they said.
The Catholic Church has been active for years in supporting migrant
workers and law breaking. The NTT Coalition for Migrant Care Group helps
ordinary people avoid falling into the hands of human traffickers, said
Fr Paulus Christian Siswantoko Pr, of the Episcopal Commission for
Justice and Peace.
"The group counts on the help of dozens of priests, nuns and lay
people in various congregations and different occupational backgrounds,"
“They help these unfortunate people to be treated in a more humane way, both at home and abroad", he added.
This is done by educating village chiefs about the bureaucracy and
helping migrant workers in getting the necessary papers. The latter is
often the most daunting obstacle migrants face.
Priests, helped by volunteers with the humanitarian group Sahabat
Insan, maintain close contact with the dioceses where workers are going.
“This way we minimise the risk that they become victims in foreign
countries," Fr Siswantoko said.