Victims of human trafficking: Tales of sorrow and heartbreak  

When Maritime Fairtrade talked to Juminten, not her real name, it was late afternoon and the sky was overcast and fast turning dark in Sidoarjo, Indonesia, as if it was a reflection of her mood.  Juminten became emotional and started crying when she recounted, she caused her father’s death when she signed on knowingly with a human trafficking syndicate because of her greed to make fast money.

Female victims of human trafficking, with faces blurred. Photo credit: Ministry of Social Affairs

“My family has always been poor. In 2016, when I had just graduated from high school, my family’s financial situation was especially bad. At that time, my parents were food sellers at the market with uncertain income and they had to support themselves and four children. I have three younger siblings who were still in school. So, I thought being the eldest I should work and the fastest way to make money is by being a migrant worker.

Female victims of human trafficking, with faces blurred. Photo credit: Ministry of Social Affairs

“I reckoned it was too slow to go the legal route to be a migrant worker, what with all the bureaucracy and paperwork. So, upon recommendation of a friend, I went to Lamongan Regency to look for an agency known for arranging illegal overseas work. The broker asked for my passport and IDR 15 million in payment, which I borrowed from my uncle. My parents were against the idea of me working overseas. They did try to stop me but I was determined.

Female victims of human trafficking, with faces blurred. Photo credit: Ministry of Social Affairs

“I didn’t even know which country I would go to. I was told to wait one week and during this time, I stayed with a friend who was also waiting to work overseas. My parents called me every day and every time we ended up arguing. I knew they were worried about me and they didn’t want me to be doing anything illegal. But I was blinded by money and all I wanted then was to earn as much money as I can so that my family can have a decent life.

The market where Juminten is now selling food. Photo credit: Ibnu Wibowo

“One day, after a particularly bad quarrel with my father over the phone, he suddenly had a stroke while still holding the phone with me on the other side still shouting at him. Hours after the stroke, he passed away. How could I forgive myself? My last words to him were angry and hurtful words. I regretted that very much and wished I could turn back the clock.

The market where Juminten is now selling food. Photo credit: Ibnu Wibowo

“My father’s death was the wakeup call that I needed. I told the broker I wanted out. I wanted to return to my hometown in Sidoarjo for my father’s funeral. The broker threatened violence but at that time, all I wanted was to pay my last respect to my father. Finally, I was let go after forfeiting the IDR 15 million I paid.

“Sometime in 2019, I received news that my friend, the one I was staying with while waiting to go overseas, was missing. She went ahead while I went back to my hometown. Her family lost contact with her and they did not know whether she was dead or alive. Her family believed she fell victim to human trafficking. My father was right after all.

“Now, I am helping my mother selling food in the market. We still struggle financially and our income is very unstable. But at least with whatever we earned, we can support my younger siblings. But more importantly, I am with my family. I believe that was what my father would have wanted.”

Male victims from East Java, holding blue bags, who were rescued. Photo credit: East Java Provincial Government

Maritime Fairtrade also interviewed Yunanto who is staying in Sidoarjo, the nephew of a human trafficking victim, Ismi (pseudonym), who is from Probolinggo Regency and is still waiting to be repatriated back to Indonesia.

Victims at customs being repatriated to Indonesia. Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“In 2018, out of the blue, Aunt Ismi told us she would be leaving in two weeks to work in Malaysia. We were shocked. True to her words, she left two weeks later. She went to Batam to get the necessary paperwork, she said, and from there traveled on to Malaysia.

“Aunt Ismi told us she worked as a housemaid and soon after she arrived in Malaysia, we lost contact. Then last year, an international NGO that helps human trafficking victims told us Aunt Ismi was a victim. She was not paid her salary and she was tortured physically by her employer. The NGO is now working with the Indonesian Government to repatriate Aunt Ismi.”

Indonesia victims in Malaysia. Photo credit: Indonesian embassy in Malaysia

Himawan Estu, East Java Provincial Government official, told Maritime Fairtrade the government always put the safety and security of migrant workers first. He urged Indonesians who wish to work overseas to use the legal and official channel because there is more protection for legal migrant workers. 

Top photo credit: Pexels/ Engin Akyurt. Stock photo of sad woman.

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