INDONESIAN domestic workers, who are defying a ban on working in the GCC, are considered as illegal residents by their own government despite having a valid work visa.
Jakarta imposed the ban in 2015 following repeated complaints of abuse by its citizens and the execution of two Indonesian maids in Saudi Arabia, who were convicted of murdering a woman and a four-year-old child respectively in separate cases.
The moratorium covering 21 Middle Eastern countries, including Bahrain, was put in place only for domestic workers, however, hundreds of women defy the ban daily and arrive in the GCC by taking transit flights through other Asian countries.
Since then Bahrain has introduced new laws to protect rights of domestic workers such as a new contract for housemaids, which aims to prevent exploitation and ensure proper working and living conditions.
However, a spokesman from the Indonesian Embassy in Bahrain told the GDN that his government planned to maintain the ban on domestic workers coming to the region.
“The ban that was imposed on Indonesian domestic workers in 2015, covering Gulf countries, has not changed despite new rules introduced that protect their rights,” he said.
“What we have now is a group of workers who should not be here in the first place.
“They are illegal to us because they are defying the government ban.”
He said the embassy continued to receive complaints from housemaids about abusive employers and non-payment of wages – adding that even those holding legitimate work visas were vulnerable to exploitation.
A shelter operated by the embassy currently houses scores of housemaids, who fled from their place of employment over allegations of mistreatment in the last three years.
“The cases we deal with right now are among those workers who arrived in the country after the ban (was imposed in 2015),” said the spokesman.
“These workers arrived in Bahrain with a valid work visa because the kingdom has not stopped issuing visas for them, despite restrictions imposed by Jakarta.
“We are trying our level best to address problems facing our community, but every week there are new Indonesian domestic workers arriving in Bahrain holding valid work visas.”
He added that these workers flew out of Malaysia, Singapore and other ASEAN countries to evade immigration authorities in Indonesia, who will not allow them to leave the country.
Indonesian Ambassador to Bahrain Nur Syahrir Rahardjo previously told the GDN that there was a strong nexus between recruitment agencies in Manama and Jakarta.
He said in September last year that some workers even claimed they were heading to Saudi Arabia on a religious pilgrimage, but secretly lined up jobs as domestic staff.
In a survey conducted in 2016 by Jakarta-based advocacy group Migrant Care, hundreds of Indonesian women travelling out of the country openly admitted they were coming to the Gulf to work as housemaids.
Of 1,020 women interviewed between March 2015 and May last year at Jakarta’s main airport, about 90 per cent were bound for the GCC and the rest were going to Malaysia, which is not included in the ban.
Indonesian housemaids are a popular choice for Bahraini employers, since they often speak Arabic and are familiar with Muslim religious practices.
The GDN contacted several recruitment agencies who all confirmed there was still a high demand for Indonesian maids with the total cost of recruitment paid by sponsors ranging between BD1,300 and BD1,500.