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October 1997, Volume 4, Number 10

Indonesia: Armed Forces Control Emigration

The Indonesian armed forces will oversee "all stages" of labor immigration, and the Indonesian navy announced plans to step up patrols and tighten border crossings from the northern Sumatran provinces across the Strait of Malacca to Malaysia. Indonesian President Suharto had recently announced a crackdown on the recruitment agencies that are sending workers abroad illegally; illegal immigration "got our country into a dispute with Malaysia."

The Armed Forces will act through the Agency for the Coordination of Support for the Development of National Stability.

The Indonesian government issued a decree in early 1997 which required expatriate workers in Indonesia to pay $100 a month through work contract fees, with the tax used to finance vocational training programs for local workers so that they can replace the foreign workers. There are an estimated 70,000 foreign workers in Indonesia, earning a total of between $2.5 billion and $3 billion. According to the government, 75 percent of Indonesian workers are primary-school graduates.

On September 10, 807 Indonesian workers who were illegally in Malaysia were returned to Indonesia aboard a navy warship. Twenty-eight of the workers were taken directly to a hospital because they had contracted a disease on board.

There are about 900,000 Indonesians working overseas, 70 to 80 percent of them women. They earn an average monthly salary of $163 to $326, compared with an $1.02 daily farm wage in Indonesia; remittances totaled $871 million in 1996. There are reportedly 3,200 Indonesian women in the United Arab Emirates, 20,000 in Hong Kong, 21,000 in Singapore and about 100,000 in Malaysia.

During a seminar in July 1997 on citizenship laws affecting women in Indonesia, concerns were raised about Indonesia's 1958 Marriage Law. If married to a foreigner, the wife's legal status and her child's right to citizenship depend on the husband's citizenship. As a result, the law leaves few options for the woman and child regarding immigration, taxation and citizenship.

President Suharto in April 1997 said that East Timorese who emigrated to Portugal and other countries can return to Indonesia without facing any adverse consequences: "We will welcome them if they come with good intentions and recognize their mistake," he said. Thousands of East Timorese emigrated after Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975. In 1995-96, Portugal granted asylum to more than 100 East Timorese.

Indonesia in September 1997 announced plans to deport 252 Chinese men who entered the country aboard 16 fishing vessels flying Indonesian flags. In mid-February 1997, Indonesia pushed back to sea a boat with 85 Chinese who were hoping to get to New Zealand.

Ethnic Chinese are about three percent of Indonesia's 200 million residents, but they dominate the country's economy. About 110 of the 140 major business conglomerates that account for most of Indonesia's GDP are controlled by ethnic Chinese. Some favor Malaysian-style affirmative action for native pribumis to reduce anti-Chinese feelings.

The World Bank predicted in June that Indonesia would become one of the world's 20 largest economies if it maintains current growth rates through 2005. If growth continues at 7.5 percent per year, per capita GDP might reach $2,300 in 2005, up from $880 in 1994.

"Jakarta plans non-tariff barrier to shut out expats," Singapore Straits Times, September 16, 1997. "Repatriated Workers from Malaysia Arrive in NTE," Indonesian National News, September 10, 1997. "Army to supervise Indonesian labor export," Jakarta Post, September 4, 1997. Derwin Pereira, "Indonesia to take back illegal workers in Malaysian stages," Singapore Straits Times, August 13, 1997. "Women, children need better citizenship law," Jakarta Post, July 23, 1997. Becky Mowbray, "Not all greener pastures for female overseas workers," Jakarta Post, July 13, 1997. "As good times roll, Indonesia's Chinese fear for their future," Wall Street Journal, June 5, 1997.