Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Temporary Respite

As usual it began with a phone call.  In the first week of February, a call came through from the staff at the halfway house run by the Ministry of Social Welfare in East Jakarta. A group of people needed some spiritual counsel. The people were Indonesian migrant workers who had been deported from Malaysia. The next day, a group of volunteers who call themselves Care for Migrants Network of the Jakarta Archdiocese visited the shelter and organised a common counseling session and a mass because most of the deportees were Catholic.
The situation of these migrant workers is not uncommon. According to official statistics, Indonesia sends about 450,000 migrant workers abroad every year, but this does not cover those who leave the country to work using channels unrecognised by the state. Some estimates put the total number at up to 700,000 people. The most popular destination is neighbouring Malaysia which houses 1.3 to 1.6 million Indonesian migrant workers at any given time. About half of them are without documents and some of them end up in halfway houses like the one in Jakarta after being deported by Malaysian authorities.
On that day 44 deportees, including four women and a month-old baby, were housed in the shelter. They were waiting for the ship that would bring them, in a four-day voyage, to their homes in several regions in Nusa Tenggara Timur province. They had arrived two days earlier from Tanjung Pinang in the Sumatran province which borders with the Malay Peninsula. Some of them had spent up to three months in the Pasir Gudang detention centre in Malaysia before being deported. While in detention, a handful of them had been punished by caning. The baby was born in the detention centre after the mother was arrested by the authorities. Its father remained in Malaysia because he had proper documents.
What the volunteers did was simple. They tried to create a welcoming environment by providing a space for the deportees to talk, sing, pray and sometimes make confessions. Many of them had undergone traumatic experiences and had had no opportunity to deal with them. A simple gesture of friendship was all that was needed to unlock the fear and worry that had crippled them and to restore their humanity.
These volunteers have been doing this for the past four years in collaboration with the staff at the shelter. In the beginning the staff invited them only when there were Christian deportees. After a while, they allowed the group to help organise cooking or hairdressing classes for everyone in the shelter, regardless of religion.
Sahabat Insan, a Jesuit initiative that helps returning migrants, joined this network of volunteers three years ago. Most of the volunteers are nuns who run similar services for migrants and victims of trafficking in Jakarta. The group has witnessed a lot of tragic stories of violence, desperation and hopelessness and often feel completely helpless themselves. In one particular case in April 2014, the group had to deal with 21 young girls from Nusa Tenggara Timur who had been trafficked and enslaved in a bird’s nest factory in Medan, North Sumatra, for two years. Two of their friends died in captivity, which triggered the alarm that led to their release. The girls had to spend two months in the halfway house because police were investigating the case and needing them as witnesses. The friendship and warmth offered by the volunteers helped bring smiles back to their faces at the end of the stay in Jakarta. Afterwards, two nuns accompanied them on their way to Kupang, the capital of their home province and met with their families.
This simple service is supported by the Jakarta Archdiocese and the Counter Women Trafficking Commission of the Indonesian Association of Female Religious Congregations. The network has developed other activities such as organising seminars and training sessions on anti-trafficking as well as lobbying policy makers to advocate for better protection for migrant workers. The group is best defined, however, by their hospitality in offering a temporary respite for the laboured and broken.

Please visit http://sjapc.net/content/temporary-respite