"I first came to Malaysia on August 17, 2009.

I remember exactly, on the day when Indonesian

people all over the world commemorated our

Independence Day, I left my country, my family, and

traveled far looking for a better life. And it wasn't

easy for me to work as a migrant worker in a foreign

country..." - Wagirah (September, 2013)

Wagirah is one among million illegal migrant workers in Malaysia. Up until February 2012, Malaysian government recorded there were 1.3 million illegal migrant workers and most of them were Indonesian. 


As one of the Southeast Asia's wealthiest countries, Malaysia is a magnet for migrants from neighboring country including Indonesia. Statistic from national Agency for Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers (BNP2TKI) reports that Malaysia is the top destination country for Indonesian migrant workers. It is about 45% of Indonesian migrant workers choose to work in Malaysia. Drawing on data contained at BNP2TKI, there are about 150.235 Indonesian migrant workers yearly work in Malaysia. This situation is possible since the two countries geographically, language, and culturally are close one another.

Low income - high unemployment in Indonesia and high income - low unemployment in Malaysia, are frequently justified as push and pull factors of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia, respectively. Thus Indonesia becomes the main labor-exporting country to Malaysia and it is also estimated that 80% of them are illegal migrant workers. 

"Hopes and Dreams" is my personal project that aims to document the experience of Indonesian illegal / undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia. For over two years now, I have been documenting their struggle against unemployment, poverty, and how these women migrant workers attempt to find out job outside their country legally or illegally. 



Wagirah and other subjects in this story, are very much vulnerable to be trafficked both on the way to Malaysia or in Malaysia as well. Their illegal / undocumented status risky to various kinds of threats such as: victimization, fraud, trafficking, arresting, exploitation and sexual harassment, subjected to discriminatory legal standards, and living in great fear of being detained or deported. Some of the workers I met came to Malaysia legally, furthermore, running away from employer's place because of bad treatment or sexual harassment by the employer is another concerning situation experienced by Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia. Thus their status became illegal.


In this project, I interviewed several undocumented female migrant workers from Indonesia who were willing to share their experience with me. Based on their stories, I traced back places where they were being arrested, being abused, being trafficked, or being harassed. This ongoing project is not only to examine the long-run relationship among income, remittances, unemployment, or migrant workers issues between Indonesia and Malaysia, but also questioning the protection and promotion of fundamental rights: a right to life and security; to sustainable livehood; to be heard; to have an identity; and to have access to basic social services; without any exception.




*) Some names and identifying details have been changed for security reasons and to protect the privacy of individuals.

Malaysia (2012) Being illegal means no legal right to be in the country and not being able to live a life sedentarily to avoid illegal immigration raids. Many Indonesian undocumented migrant workers live and stay in villages to mingle with the locals. According to them, mingling with the locals is one of their tricks to avoid raids.

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Malaysia (2012). A decoration in the main room.

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Malaysia (2012). Juwariah has been working in Malaysia illegally for more than five years. Only a few months after this photo was taken, she got caught by the immigration authorities when they went into the area and checked the documents of each occupant. Juwariah was one of those netted in the raid and jailed for three months in Pokok Sena penitentiary, Kedah, before she was finally deported to Indonesia.

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"They ( the Immigration authorities) came in the middle of the night. I was very tired, and overslept that I didn't hear that they were coming. I guess, I wasn't lucky because I didn't have a chance hide or run away. The worst, my passport was expired and I don't have working permit" - (Juwariah)

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Malaysia (2014). Jumriyah came to Malaysia in September 2013 through Batam Island. Batam is one of the exit point locations in mobilization pathways of migrants which is the conventional mode of the shipment of potential unprocedural migrant workers. She first became a migrant worker when she was 13. By falsifying her age and other data, she set out to be a migrant worker to Saudi Arabia. Sexual harassment, physical abuse committed by her employer, salaries not being paid for 6 years, caused her to return to Indonesia and decided to try her luck as overseas migrant worker in Malaysia.


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Malaysia (2012). Taman Pelangi at night. Taman Pelangi, Bukit Mertajam, Penang, is a residential area where 80% of the residents are immigrants from various countries, such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Myanmar. It is known as a quite susceptible area in the sense that there are many illegal immigrants who are under pressure to pay immigration authorities and the police officers to avoid being arrested. Robbery, murder among fellow immigrants, gambling, quarrels, drug trafficking, and promiscuity are quite rampant found in this region.

 

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Malaysia (2012).  Taman Pelangi at night. Taman Pelangi, Bukit Mertajam, Penang, is a residential area where 80% of the residents are immigrants from various countries, such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Myanmar. It is known as a quite susceptible area in the sense that there are many illegal immigrants who are under pressure to pay immigration authorities and the police officers to avoid being arrested. Robbery, murder among fellow immigrants, gambling, quarrels, drug trafficking, and promiscuity are quite rampant found in this region.

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Malaysia (2014). Wagirah worked legally as a domestic worker in 2009. After 8 months of working, she ran away because her male employer often committed sexual harassment. All documents, Employment Contract, passport, and working permit were kept by her employer. She ran away in empty-handed condition, without documents and passport. Consequently, she has become an illegal immigrant. Employers often withhold passports of migrant domestic workers as a means of control, and it is enacted and/or required in a number of destination countries, including Malaysia.

 

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