The Church in East Nusa Tenggara working to stop the death of migrant workers
by Mathias Hariyadi

The number of young migrant workers dying abroad is increasing. Poor farming conditions are driving hundreds of people to Malaysia, victims of people’s smugglers, working without papers. For local priest, educating village chiefs about the bureaucracy helps migrant workers.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) is an arid land and irrigation is poor. This has meant high unemployment for the province’s residents. In view of this, many of them continue to leave in their hundreds seeking work in neighbouring countries, often without a residence permit, with the risk of falling into the hands of traffickers or dying on the job without papers to be repatriated.

Teenagers and young adults are pushed to leave the Flores islands and Timor for better employment opportunities, especially in Malaysia. Many of them, however, end up caught up in criminal rings or die on the job.

For John Salukh, who heads the Migrant Workers’ Placement and Protection Office, work-related deaths are up. this year, "In total, 37 deaths were recorded among migrant workers," he said. Last year, there were 25. “Only one victim was legal; all the others had false papers."

Some bodies have not been repatriated because they could not be identified. The Indonesian government is investigating the cause of death, which may be related to abuse in the workplace.

To sensitise NTT authorities about the problem, a group of Protestant churches held a joint prayer on Sunday, in Kupang, in front of the Governor’s Residence.

Participants marched, carrying an empty coffin, to symbolise the rising number of locals who die abroad. "Whether they had the right papers or not, they were from here,” they said.

The Catholic Church has been active for years in supporting migrant workers and law breaking. The NTT Coalition for Migrant Care Group helps ordinary people avoid falling into the hands of human traffickers, said Fr Paulus Christian Siswantoko Pr, of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace.

"The group counts on the help of dozens of priests, nuns and lay people in various congregations and different occupational backgrounds," he explained.

“They help these unfortunate people to be treated in a more humane way, both at home and abroad", he added.

This is done by educating village chiefs about the bureaucracy and helping migrant workers in getting the necessary papers. The latter is often the most daunting obstacle migrants face.

Priests, helped by volunteers with the humanitarian group Sahabat Insan, maintain close contact with the dioceses where workers are going. “This way we minimise the risk that they become victims in foreign countries," Fr Siswantoko said.

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