Tuesday, September 26, 2023 | 11:44 WIB

Sari, ex-migrant worker and human trafficking victim – Working 7 years with no pay


Jakarta, IO – Sari (not her real name), who lives in a small village in Sambas (West Kalimantan) is just like everyone else who wants a better life for themselves and their family. However, her journey to realize her dream took a darker turn. 

Her ordeal began in 2015 when she was still was still 20. She was recruited by a couple who worked for a worker supply firm in West Kalimantan. Sari was coaxed by the promise that she can easily leave to work in Malaysia with high salary. All the placement and departure process will be taken care of. “You just need to pack and go,” she was told. 

Sari was promised a job in a restaurant in East Malaysian state of Sabah. Her parents were happy to let Sari go in the hope that their lives would change for the better. 

With 19 other workers, Sari crossed the land border with ease. When questioned by the immigration officer, they were told by the agent to mention a certain name. “The name was like a pass code. After doing that, we were let through,” revealed Sari. 

When they arrived in Sabah, they were picked up by the agent’s partner. “We were then driven to our respective employer. I was first offered a promise to work in a restaurant but it turned out that I was employed as a domestic worker in the residence of the head of samseng,” she said. 

Samseng refers to a gangster or thug in Malaysia. They are often involved in drug trade and human trafficking. Most of them own brothels, and because their customers often include unscrupulous government officials and law enforcement officers, they are well connected. samseng members are also often armed with guns. 

After working for a few years, Sari became disillusioned. “I really wanted to return to my village immediately, but I could do nothing. The house had high walls and was guarded by vicious dogs. There were CCTVs everywhere and the security were armed. Worse, Sari’s passport was held by her employer while her mobile phone was forcibly seized by her agent. It was later discovered that her phone was handed back to her parents on the pretext that she had to focus on her work in Malaysia and could not be disturbed during her two-year term of employment. 

In her first three years, the employer treated her well. However, since 2018, she began to be tortured by her masters and their two children. If they thought that the bathroom was not clean enough, they would bang Sari’s head to the wall. It did not stop there, she would also be hit on the head with a large piece of wood until she bled. “I had to be taken to the nearest hospital. After I recovered and returned to the house, the cycle of violence repeated itself. I endured countless of tortures. I once tried to run away but the dogs attacked and bit me,” said Sari, crying. 

Read: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN INDONESIA A Common Issue, A Recurring Tragedy

Adding salt to injury, Sari never received any of her promised salary during her seven years of working in Malaysia. Concerned about her wellbeing, her parents fled a police complaint. However, nothing happened. In 2022, Sari’s parents fled a report to the migrant worker protection agency. It was forwarded to the Indonesian Embassy in Malaysia. Sari was freed and returned to her hometown. 

Even after her return in October 2022, Sari is still traumatized by her whole experience as a migrant worker. When she talked about his, she would sob and stare blankly. Even now, her future is uncertain because she has yet to have a job in her village. Sari’s ordeal shows that there are still many migrant workers who are in such a vulnerable position. (des)


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