Abri to stem flow of illegals to Malaysia

Fear that issue may spark diplomatic row.

THE Indonesian armed forces (Abri), concerned that illegal Indonesian labourers in Malaysia might spark a diplomatic row with Kuala Lumpur, will deploy its personnel to take back and stem the flow of labourers heading there.

Abri spokesman Brigadier-General Wahab Mokodongan said that in response to President Suharto’s recent order to crack down on recruitment agencies which send workers abroad illegally, the military, through its Co-ordinating Agency for National Security and Stability (Bakorstanas), would oversee all stages of labour export and repatriation.

“Many Indonesian workers enter Malaysia through illegal channels and work in the neighbouring country without proper documents,” he said.

“They have got our country into a dispute with Malaysia.”

His comments come after Mr Suharto had instructed Manpower Minister Abdul Latief last week to work with the military to deal with unscrupulous labour agents who sent workers abroad illegally without proper documentation.

Military sources told The Straits Times yesterday that Bakorstanas, which was formed in 1988 to look into problems at the national and provincial levels, would co-ordinate efforts with the navy and Manpower Ministry to resolve the matter.

A senior Abri officer, a two-star general in charge of regional security issues, said that the main task now was to repatriate several thousand illegal Indonesian workers being held in 11 Immigration-Department camps throughout Malaysia.

The Indonesian navy has begun to take back these workers. The Antara national news agency reported that 792 workers were shipped back to Surabaya on Wednesday before being sent back to their respective provinces. Indonesia had agreed to take these workers back in stages during last month’s Indonesia-Malaysia Joint Commission meeting here.

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.

The Abri officer said that Bakorstanas, which is headed by military chief Feisal Tanjung, was likely to instruct the navy to step up patrols and tighten border crossings from the Northern Sumatran provinces of Aceh and Riau.

He said that such measures would stem the flow of Indonesian workers crossing into Malaysia.

The military initiative, he added, was a “step in the right direction” to improve relations with Malaysia.

He said: “We understand the concerns of the Malaysian government and have responded with various measures to resolve the problem.

“We don’t want this matter to affect our overall political and economic ties with Malaysia.”

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