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Proposed Single-Destination Passport in Indonesia: A Misguided Protection Policy?

by Firtriana Nur*

Despite its good intentions, the government may be considering a misguided policy after Jumhur Hidayat, head of the National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers, recently announced a proposal to issue single-destination passports to migrant workers, restricting them from traveling anywhere except their intended destination.
The board, also known as the BNP2TKI, says this will be an effective way to prevent trafficking in persons. It says trafficking syndicates and rogue placement agencies move victims — using official channels — from one country to another and, once there, they are trafficked. The single-destination passport is supposed to prevent migrant workers being “sold” to other countries.

In trying to get a grip on the logic here, let us first look at the United Nations’ definition of human trafficking. A trafficking case should have three elements: The movement (recruitment, transportation, harboring and reception of a person); the means (deception, fraud, coercion, abduction, abuse of power or abuse of vulnerability); and the purpose (labor exploitation, sex exploitation, forced labor, removal of organs, etc.).

It is important to understand the purpose of trafficking: The exploitation of human beings. The movement of victims only serves as a means. Thus, a single-destination passport does not guarantee any real prevention.

When I was in Jordan in February, I visited the Indonesian Embassy in Amman. I met about 200 Indonesian women, mostly domestic workers, who were housed inside the compound for protection. Most of them did not have passports with them because they were either taken away by recruitment agents or employers. A few that I spoke with said they had gone to Jordan for work but ended up being trafficked. According to the embassy, about five domestic workers a day show up seeking protection from abusive employers or agents. Imagine if there was no embassy nearby and the only way of seeking protection would be to flee to a neighboring country. What protection would the single-destination passport provide in that case?

While the goal of protecting migrant workers is laudable, and creating a unique migrant worker passport similar to what was once used for the hajj may offer benefits, this current quick-fix proposal reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about trafficking and the realities facing migrant workers abroad.

The policy would criminalize the movement side of trafficking, but fail to address the main problem. The real peril facing migrant workers is exploitation. Even if the government decides that migrant workers can only work, say, in Malaysia, they can still be exploited there. Fundamentally, the exploitation occurs because migrant workers are treated as a commodity by recruitment agencies, they are not well prepared before departure, employers feel they can abuse them and the government rarely punishes recruitment agencies who commit trafficking offenses.

The worry is that while limiting the movement of workers with a single-destination passport may prevent some trafficking, it may also limit legitimate travel — what if employers need to take their domestic workers overseas, which is common practice?

Combating trafficking in persons is not easy, especially when trafficking crosses borders. Policies to address these problems require comprehensive action to combat the push and pull factors behind exploitation. Policies also require sincere cooperation with destination countries, since trafficking cannot be addressed by one country alone.

Measures to combat labor exploitation should explore prevention of trafficking, protection of victims and prosecution of traffickers. We need policies that ensure only truly qualified and well trained migrant workers are recruited, workers who are empowered and educated about safe migration and what to expect from destination countries. In addition, we should work only with countries that have protection mechanisms in place for migrants and should increase our consular presence to handle trafficking cases. Finally, only countries that consider human trafficking a crime should be allowed to employ our workers.

The single-destination passport runs the risk of appearing to offer protection but falling short. It is not unlike the memorandum of understanding signed between Indonesia and Malaysia in May 2006 that authorized employers to keep the passports of migrant domestic workers. That policy failed to protect migrant workers from abuse because it actually increased their vulnerability.

Government should take a holistic approach to protecting migrant workers. A passport’s function is for identification while abroad. It is not a suit of armor.

Note:
Fitriana Nur is a recipient of the 2010 Australian Leadership Award from Indonesia. Ana is currently completing  a Master of Public Policy and Management at the University of Melbourne in December 2011.  Previously, she worked for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Indonesia. This op-ed piece was originally published in Jakarta Globe and has Ana’s permission to be re-posted on Reflective Diplomat. See: (http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/opinion/single-destination-passport-a-misguided-protection-policy/456651)

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