Threats and intimidation have not stopped the priest. For him, “when you are involved in humanitarian issues, you have to be tough. My religious vocation has always spurred me to do this.” Organised groups operate on the island. Most victims are teenage girls, mostly from East Nusa Tenggara.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Chrisanctus Paschalis Saturnus (pictured) is on a mission to fight human trafficking and ease the pain of its victims.
The clergyman works in the Diocese of Pangkal Pinang, capital of Bangka-Belitung Islands province. The late Bishop Hilarius Moa Nurak picked him in 2013 to head the diocesan Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral Outreach for Migrants.
Since then, one of the places where he has focused his attention is Batam Island, in the Riau archipelago, which is increasingly affected by human trafficking due to its proximity to Singapore. The city-state is only 20-to-30 minutes by ferry.
In 2014 alone, Fr Saturnus helped 24 people get justice. "We accompanied them during the entire legal process,” he told AsiaNews. “After successfully providing legal aid, the diocesan Commission decided to bring these people home, in the various sub-districts of Kupang, capital of East Nusa Tenggara province."
Despite threats and intimidations, Fr Saturnus intends to continue raising awareness about human trafficking. He knows "from personal experience” that “when you are involved in humanitarian issues, you have to be tough. My religious vocation has always spurred me to do this.”
"My main concern is that some of the victims are not conscious of the problem. Most are teenage girls who do not even realise what happened to them and why they came to Batam or that they were about to leave for abroad. To my surprise, sometimes the victims strongly object to our mission and the legal aid we offer.”
On 27 November, Fr Saturnus filed a complaint with the National Judicial Commission in Jakarta, asking for a team to be sent to Batam to oversee and monitor the legal proceedings involving human trafficking in the district court.
In particular, the priest is critical of the court in a case that involves a rich and powerful woman, Ms J. Rusna, who boasts ties with the security forces in Batam.
Local figures and associates from other parts of the country are also entangled in the island’s human trafficking business.
"The ways in which they conduct business and treat migrant workers are like the mafia,” the clergyman said. “There is always a link and a ‘mutual’ deal with the local police, government and courts. To fight this humanitarian problem, we have to face many challenges," he added.
Teenage boys and girls are "easy targets" because of their ignorance about the law and administrative matters. Most victims are migrant women, some of them even malnourished, coming mainly from East Nusa Tenggara. "Some of them are Catholic," he explained.
Fr Saturnus also works with migrants who return to Indonesia after years of working abroad. "Those who make it back alive bear many scars from being exploited. Others simply don’t come back alive. In this case, our priority is to repatriate their bodies to their home towns."