‘The saddest Aidilfitri’ – virus cuts lifeline for migrant families

  • AseanPlus News
  • Saturday, 23 May 2020

Welcome home: A health worker disinfecting migrant workers arriving from Malaysia before entering a quarantine centre at Soewondo Air Base in Medan, North Sumatra. — AP

SINCE leaving his village in Indonesia to work abroad three decades ago, Wasito has never failed to send money home during Aidilfitri to support his family in the world’s largest Muslim country.

This year he cannot.

Coronavirus lockdowns around the world have forced companies to cut jobs or wages, and migrant workers such as Wasito are particularly vulnerable because of inadequate job protections.

“My wife has been calling every day and crying. We have to cancel celebrations this year, ” said Wasito, who works as a plumber in Malaysia and like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Eid celebrations, due to start this weekend, mark the end of the holiest time in the Muslim calendar, the Ramadan month of fasting.

Most businesses in Malaysia have reopened this month, but Wasito said he was not paid his monthly wages of RM2,500 during the six-week shutdown, forcing him to borrow money from his employer to get food that he now has to repay.

“I did not dare to ask why I wasn’t paid because I don’t want to be fired, and I’m too embarrassed to borrow money for Aidilfitri, ” the 49-year-old father of four said by phone.Aidilfitri is the most important festival in Indonesia, where nearly 90% of its 260 million population are Muslim.

The festival is celebrated with feasts and new clothes, and characterised by a spike in remittances sent by millions of labourers who work overseas in building, plantations and factories.

Migrant workers sent US$11.44bil (RM50bil) back to Indonesia in 2019, up from US$8.35bil (RM36bil) in 2014, mostly from countries in Asia and the Middle East, Indonesia’s Central Bank figures show.

“Remittances are important for Indonesian families to support their basic needs like food, housing and education, ” said Pingkan Audrine, a researcher at the Centre for Indonesian Policy Studies, a Jakarta-based think-tank.

“Some of their relatives have also used the money to start small businesses such as the warung (roadside kiosks), so their family in the village can earn an income, ” she added.The World Bank says global remittances are set to fall by about 20% – or US$100bil (RM436bil) – this year, about four times more of a drop than during the 2009 financial crisis.

Such a loss would cut a crucial lifeline for many families, as one in nine people globally benefited from international remittances in 2019, according to the United Nations.More than 100,000 Indonesians have returned home since the start of the coronavirus crisis, local media reported, and with little work around, they are now the ones who need help.

“(Instead of sending money home), many migrant workers are asking their family for money, ” said Maizidah Salas, a coordinator at the non-profit Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union.

“This will certainly be the saddest Aidilfitri for migrant workers and their family members, ” she added. — Reuters

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