Indonesia to stop sending domestic workers to Middle East

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia will stop sending new domestic workers to 21 Middle Eastern countries, reports said Tuesday, after the recent execution of two Indonesian women in Saudi Arabia angered Jakarta.

The ban affects countries including Saudi Arabia — a major destination for Indonesian maids — United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Egypt, and will come into effect in three months' time, Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri said.

Jakarta, which has long complained about the treatment of Indonesian maids in the Middle East, had already placed a moratorium on sending new helpers to Saudi Arabia in 2011 following the beheading of a worker.

The new move is meant to be permanent. Maids already working in the affected countries will be allowed to stay and continue in their positions.

Indonesia's anger at the executions of its citizens abroad comes despite the fact that Jakarta last week executed seven foreign drug convicts, drawing a storm of international protest.

"According to the law, the government has the right to stop the placement of migrant workers in particular countries if it is believed that their employment degrades human values and the dignity of the nation," Dhakiri said.

He said there were "many problems" with Indonesians working abroad related to "labor norms and human rights violations".

Dhakiri cited the execution of Indonesian domestic workers Siti Zaenab and Karni binti Medi Tarsim, who were both put to death for murder just days apart in April. (READ: Indonesia protests beheading of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia)

The foreign ministry summoned the Saudi ambassador to Indonesia after both executions, complaining Jakarta had not been informed beforehand.

Drug trafficking, rape, murder, apostasy, and armed robbery are all punishable by death under the kingdom's strict version of Islamic sharia law.

Dhakiri also said Indonesia will tighten placement of helpers to countries in the Asia-Pacific through measures such as auditing training centres and blacklisting rogue agencies.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who took office last year, vowed in February that maids would no longer be sent abroad in future, although he did not mention a date. Previous Indonesian governments have made similar pledges.

As well as the Middle East, Indonesia also sends domestic workers to many parts of Asia, including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, and has often complained about the treatment of its workers in those countries.

A Hong Kong woman was jailed for six years in February for beating and starving her Indonesian maid and keeping her prisoner, in a high-profile case that drew attention to the abuse of domestic helpers in the financial hub. —Rappler.com