Saturday, September 7, 2002

TKIs sold as sex slaves in Kalimantan

The plight of illegal Indonesian workers deported from Malaysia took a new turn on Friday with the finding that some 25 girls, mostly from Java, had been forced into becoming sex workers in Tawau, East Malaysia.

The prostitution ring was uncovered after some of the girls ran away from their workplace and took refuge at the Consulate of Indonesia in Tawau two weeks ago.

The girls said they were initially promised by agents to become waitresses at restaurants in Tarakan and Malaysia.

They have returned to Indonesia, with 13 arriving in the East Kalimantan town of Nunukan on Friday. They were immediately put under police protection.

The rest have been sent to their respective hometowns.

Chief of Nunukan Police Adj. Sr. Comr. Antonang said the police could not make any arrests as the case took place in Malaysia, but he said the provincial police would coordinate with officers in East Java and South Sulawesi to trace the syndicates involved in women trafficking.

Antara reported that one of the girls, who is 17, said she was initially offered by Suwarno, whom she met in Surabaya, to work as a waitress in Kalimantan, and she would receive a high salary.

"I had no idea that I was being brought to Tawau to be forced into becoming a sex worker," she said.

The girls, all under 20 years of age, said they were treated poorly by their employers, who also seized their belongings and banned them from walking outside their workplace.

The girls were sold by Indonesian agents for about 1,000 ringgit to their employers in Malaysia.

Some 200 more workers were moved to modest barracks in Mambunut camp ground just near the seashore.

There are over 55 barracks built to accommodate thousands of illegal workers and their families in Mambunut, but only 40 percent of the barracks are ready for use. Another 25 are being constructed at the Sedadap campground.

Each building, which has walls made of wood, is 40 square meters in size. It can accommodate 50 people.

With no proper toilets, the workers have to use the seashore, raising fear of water pollution.

In addition to the poor conditions, the workers are exposed to disease as the barracks become flooded during heavy rain.

As of Thursday, 26 people had been treated at Nunukan community health center for various health problems, mostly diarrhea. One of the patients, Jabir Muhammad, 50, of South Sulawesi, died from a respiratory tract infection on Thursday.

The government has sent a mobile hospital on board the KRI Tanjung Kambani, but until Friday evening the warship had not arrived in Nunukan.

In Jakarta, Vice President Hamzah Haz said that the current migrant workers' plight was a result of the government's ignorance.

"In the Philippines, the government considers these workers as formal workers who contribute to the state revenue. We have never done that for our workers," he said.

Hamzah said that the current crisis should be the right time for Indonesia to improve the whole system of migrant workers.

"We have to find comprehensive ways to handle the issue to ensure that it will not recur," he said.

Coordinating Minister for Peoples' Welfare Jusuf Kalla said that he had made sure that the health facilities in Nunukan would be able to properly serve the deported workers.

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Created: September 11, 2002
Last modified: September 11, 2002
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