The murderous and widely used migration route between Indonesia and Malaysia


More than 20 Indonesian migrants died trying to reach Malaysia when their boat capsized on December 15. This is far from an isolated tragedy in the region, say our Observers, who are working to help Indonesians using these illegal migration routes in the hope of finding work. in Malaysia.

It was around 4.30 a.m. on December 15, 2021 when the small boat finally capsized off the coast of Malaysia, after being rocked by rough monsoon seas. The boat, built for around 30 people, was carrying around 50 Indonesian migrants trying to reach Johor state in southwest Malaysia.

At least 21 people died in the sinking, and 16 others are missing. Only 13 people were rescued, according to the latest figures, by local rescuers, who stopped their search for survivors on December 19.

Footage shared by the Johor Rescue Services and Coast Guard shows crews pulling the overturned boat out of the rough seas. Other images show several body bags containing the remains of the victims lying on the beach.

The Johor Coast Guard shared several photos and videos of the rescue operations on their Facebook page between December 15 and 19.

Malaysia: 5 more bodies were found a day after a boat suspected of carrying undocumented migrants capsized off the coast of Johor state in southern Malaysia, bringing the death toll to 16 in the accident.https: //

– Rebecca Rambar (@RebeccaRambar) December 16, 2021 Tweet from @RebeccaRambar translated from French: “Malaysia: 5 other bodies were found a day after the sinking of a boat suspected of transporting undocumented migrants off the coast of the State of Johor, in southern Malaysia, bringing the total death toll to 16. The sinking demonstrates the dangers of this illegal migration route, used by many Indonesians who come to work in agriculture, construction and production in Malaysia, which has a GDP three times the size of their home country.

“Smugglers transport migrants in overcrowded motorboats” Alex Ong is the Malaysian coordinator of “Migrant CARE”, a Jakarta-based association that helps Indonesian migrants around the world. There are over 2.5 million Indonesians in Malaysia.

Indonesians have crossed the ocean and migrated to Malaysia for hundreds of years. Countries share more than just geographic proximity, they also have a very similar culture and language. Malaysia is home to the largest Indonesian diaspora in the world. Many Indonesian communities have existed for years in Malaysia.

Some Indonesians migrate for economic reasons, but others are displaced by the effects of natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions or typhoons.

The migrants on board the capsized boat were from Bali, located in eastern Indonesia. The boat left Batam, an Indonesian island located about fifty kilometers from Malaysia and Singapore. The region is a hub for migration.

Unfortunately, this type of accident is common in this area. [Editor’s note: between Sumatra and western Malaysia]. There are many small Indonesian islands located very close to the small Malaysian islands, which makes our border very porous and difficult for the coast guard to monitor. Indonesians can travel to the Indonesian island of Batam without a passport, and once there they will try to obtain a visa for Malaysia. If that doesn’t work, they go for the illegal option and use a smuggler to get to Malaysia. Smugglers transport migrants in overcrowded motor boats, making accidents likely.

It is difficult to establish how many Indonesians are trying to cross by sea, says Alex Ong. He says ships that get stopped by the Coast Guard or capsize are just the tip of the iceberg.

A migrant filmed this overcrowded boat carrying Indonesians returning from Malaysia in October 2021. The passengers on this boat arrived in Indonesia unharmed. The caption, written in Indonesian, says the boat’s driver is waiting for a signal to return to Indonesia.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 Indonesians travel to Malaysia undocumented each year, according to Migrant CARE. Once there, many fail to obtain legal status. Others acquire legal status and then lose it. Overall, there are over 1.5 million Indonesian undocumented workers in Malaysia. These people have no social security if they injure themselves or if their employers decide to fire them or pay them less. Some run the risk of being trapped in some form of forced labor.

“I remember too many capsized boats” Abdul Aziz Ismail works on the ground to help undocumented migrants return home to Indonesia safely. He is a member of the Anti-Human Trafficking Council in the Malaysian state of Selangor, where the capital Kuala Lumpur is located. Many migrants also disembark in this state, after having crossed the Strait of Malacca.

Ismail says sea routes are most often used by Indonesian migrants seeking to return home, either temporarily to see their families during vacations like Eid or a wedding, or to return permanently.

He explained that this route is widely used by people traveling from Malaysia to Indonesia and not the other way around.

I remember too many capsized boats. I have met many migrants who have crossed the sea to return to Indonesia because they were struggling without legal status in Malaysia and facing prosecution. Other times, their employers fail to renew their visas or even confiscate their papers, trapping them and forcing them to work in appalling conditions.

I tried to help young Indonesian girls, who are only 18 and 19 years old. They signed contracts and had all the necessary papers to come and work in an electricity company in Malaysia. But when they arrived, their employers confiscated their papers and their contracts were no longer valid. They were never paid and the employers threatened to report them to the authorities if they tried to leave.

Human rights organizations condemn this system of exploitation which affects migrants from all over Southeast Asia who come to Malaysia.

In November 2020, Malaysia put in place a program to regularize the status of migrant workers, a plan they hoped to complete by December 31, 2021. This decision was largely linked to the Covid-19 pandemic , which worsened conditions for migrant workers, who often suddenly lost their income and lacked access to protection.

The new procedures were aimed at helping some undocumented migrants to return to their country of origin. They would also allow some employers to legally register their migrant workers, without facing legal repercussions.

But Ong says those plans are not enough to stop the illegal crossings, especially since not all undocumented migrants would be eligible for regularization. He says, however, that some Indonesians are hoping to be able to obtain the legal right to work in Malaysia through this program which offers temporary amnesty to employers.

Now that the economy is picking up, the need for foreign labor is growing again. Many Indonesians who previously worked in Malaysia wish to return. Migrants aboard the boat that capsized last week are likely to have come to work in the palm oil sector, which is in high demand for labor at this time of year. But coming to Indonesia legally is a long and complicated process and migrant workers cannot wait. Malaysian producers either.


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