Indonesia to take back illegal workers in Malaysia in stages

Thousands held in 11 camps and waiting to be deported.

INDONESIA and Malaysia have edged closer to resolving a long-standing problem of several thousand illegal Indonesian workers in Malaysia, with Jakarta agreeing to take them back in stages.

“We are currently working out the ways of bringing back these illegal workers. We want to do it in a smooth and peaceful manner, without any problems,” said Mr Nugroho Wisnu Murti, the Director-General for Political Affairs in the Indonesian Foreign Ministry.

He told The Straits Times yesterday, after talks with Malaysian officials here for the sixth meeting of the Indonesia-Malaysia Joint Commission, that Jakarta would take the workers back over a period of time.

He said: “We will not take them all back at once. That is impossible. So we are trying to do it gradually, in stages.”

Reports estimate that about 600,000 Indonesians work legally in Malaysia – and that the number of illegal workers could be just as high, although this number includes workers of other nationalities.

Between January and April last year, Indonesia took back more than 10,000 illegal workers.

The Malaysian government, on its part, has deported such workers amid concerns of their growing number in the country. Early this year, it sent back some 1,500 Indonesians. It also deployed some 3,000 security personnel this year on a nation wide sweep of illegal immigrants and workers.

A Malaysian official involved in the talks said that several thousand illegal workers, including Indonesian nationals, were being held in 11 immigration-department camps throughout Malaysia, waiting to be deported.

Mr Nugroho said that Indonesia agreed to take back the illegal workers in Malaysia because “their presence proved detrimental to other Indonesians working there legally”.

He described the first of the two-day meeting with his Malaysian counterparts as being “frank and very open”.

“We recognise that problems exist between both sides. But we try to solve them by accommodating each other,” he said.

He acknowledged that besides the problem of illegal workers, there were also other issues to be resolved, such as the dispute over the islands Ligitan and Sipadan. Last year, Indonesia and Malaysia submitted their claims to the International Court of Justice.

He said: “A lot of self-restraint is necessary on Ligitan-Sipadan and we have come to a stage where we can talk about it in a cordial manner.”

These problems aside, Mr Nugroho said that the two countries were also looking at how to deepen economic ties.

Posted in Indonesia