While Malaysia managed to flatten its COVID-19 curve with a strict stay-at-home order, a slowed economy has seen many migrant workers from neighbouring Indonesia struggle to feed themselves. As Indonesians — particularly women — face an increasingly desperate situation, there are growing calls for Jakarta to do more to help people unable to return home and facing discrimination.
While Indonesians officially number around 1 million in Malaysia, the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and the NGO Migrant Care both estimate there are more like 2.5 to 3 million people living there.
Undocumented women are often employed as domestic workers — making them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse— while many men work in construction. Alex Ong, a spokesperson for Migrant Care, told the ABC that even though strict lockdown measures had been eased, “many migrant workers still cannot work”.
When the movement control order was implemented in March, Indonesian MP Christina Aryani called for immediate food aid to be provided by Indonesia. “Many of our migrant workers in Malaysia are construction workers, factory workers, waitresses or janitors. They are paid daily or weekly,” she said, as quoted by the Jakarta Post.
The Indonesian Government has facilitated the return of thousands of its citizens from around the world since the pandemic began, including from Malaysia. But Agung Cahaya Sumirat, the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur’s counsellor for social and cultural affairs, told the ABC that those heading home may find it difficult to work in Malaysia again for some time. Moreover, returning to Indonesia, which faces the largest caseload in East Asia and mass unemployment due to coronavirus, is not an appealing option for many.