JAKARTA, Indonesia

Suryani, 38, has been looking out for her unemployed husband in Malaysia for the last three months, but with no luck.

Her husband, Siswadi, an Indonesian undocumented migrant, was working as a construction worker in Malaysia’s west coast state of Selangor. He received 60 Malaysian ringgits ($13.8) a day.

Siswadi usually sent the money to his family back home in East Java.

But, the situation has changed after the Malaysian government enforced strict coronavirus measures called the Movement Control Order (MCO), which led to long lay-offs. He no longer has an income, nor access to healthcare.

“Since the restrictions were imposed, my husband has not been able to get food aid,” Suryani told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.

He is struggling to survive with the rest of his depleted savings.

“Before [the restrictions] he could eat three times a day, now only once a day with reduced portions, only rice and chili sauce,” she added.

Call for help

Suryani has repeatedly asked for help from various organizations such as Migrant Care, a migrant worker protection organization, and the Indonesian Embassy in Malaysia to help her husband, but nothing has worked.

“There was someone who contacted and told him to take food aid, but it was 30 kilometers far and the MCO only allowed people to travel within a radius of 10 kilometers,” she said.

On the other hand, returning to his country was not an available option for Siswadi given his status as an undocumented migrant.

“If he wants to go home, he needs to pay for the fine and tickets, which are so expensive,” Suryani added.

However, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said they are helping their citizens abroad regardless of their legal status.

Judha Nugraha, the ministry’s director of citizen protection, said undocumented migrants should apply for aid through online forms as they are not registered in the official database.

“As long as he or she is a citizen, we will provide assistance regardless of their immigration status,” he continued.

According to the data from the ministry, there are around 300,000 Indonesian migrant workers who have received food aid so far.

Wahyu Susilo, executive director of Migrant Care, said the undocumented migrants were difficult to reach by social workers from community organizations.

“Most of them live in settlements stigmatized as the place of illegal workers while immigration authorities in Malaysia are aggressively arresting illegal migrants,” said Susilo.

“It was difficult for humanitarian workers to reach out to them, not to mention the MCO rules are very strict, and Malaysian government’s repressive policies towards them complicate the situation,” he added.

Malaysian immigration authorities arrested 1,368 illegal immigrants, including 421 Indonesian citizens, during a raid on Monday, according to local daily The Star.

Health concerns

Suryani is also worried about her husband’s health condition amid the pandemic.

Siswadi, as well as 100 other illegal immigrants, currently live in shacks in a secluded area that is heavily guarded by their employers.

“Their body temperature is checked every day. If they have a fever and cough, they will be isolated immediately,” she told Anadolu Agency, adding that they have not undergone a COVID-19 test so far.

Wahyu said migrant workers were at a higher risk of getting exposed to the novel coronavirus.

“It is impossible to implement physical distancing in those cramped shacks. We cannot ensure the health standards as well,” Susilo added.

In recent weeks, Singapore recorded a surge in new coronavirus cases among foreign workers staying in crowded dormitories.

“What they (migrant workers) need right now is access to health care services,” Susilo added.

Earlier, the Malaysian Employers Federation urged the government to do more to track cases of infections among illegal workers, according to local media The Star.

Shamsuddin Bardan, executive director of the federation, said it was difficult to control and track the spread of the virus among illegal workers as they were not covered by any form of medical insurance.

According to data from the Indonesian Agency for the Placement and Protection of Migrant Workers, Malaysia was the main destination country for Indonesian migrant workers, with 90,671 or almost one-third of the total Indonesians working abroad.

*Writing by Rhany Chairunissa Rufinaldo and Maria Elisa Hospita from Anadolu Agency’s Indonesian language services in Jakarta.

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