Giving Voice to Migrant Workers

Sumbawa, a rural region in eastern Indonesia, offers residents little opportunity to make a living, and many migrate to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore for work.

“If we don’t go, we don’t have a job,” says Pak Syamsul, who worked in Malaysia for more than two decades before returning to Sumbawa. “There really isn’t much employment here. Nothing. That’s why people leave.”

Globally, there are an estimated 232 million migrants in the world, the overwhelming majority who migrate for work. More than 6 million Indonesians work abroad, and in 2013, their remittances to their families brought $7.4 billion into the Indonesian economy.

Each of those migrant workers has a story, and a new film by JustJobs takes a close-up look at those who, like Syamsul, travel far to support their families. “Pulang Pergi” (“Going Home to Leave Again”), based on research supported by the Solidarity Center, illustrates the cost and opportunities for migrant workers and their communities.

Faisa Trisnawati, 27, is among those who migrated for a job. She worked two years in Jordan and six years in Saudi Arabia, financially unable to pursue her dream of higher education.

“I think a lot about the future, about my children, because I myself couldn’t get an education,” says Trisnawati, as her 4-year-old daughter, Nabila, played nearby. “My aspirations were never realized. I want my children to be able to accomplish anything. Not like me, becoming a migrant worker abroad …”

Working as a farmer in Sumbawa is impossible, she says, because the cost of renting land and buying supplies would exceed income. Rich with agricultural potential, Sumbawa highlights the complex and often conflicting pressures underlying global labor migration, a region that received $1.4 million in remittances in 2013 and where its residents are forced to leave.

The Solidarity Center is supporting research on key migrant worker rights issues–examining how workers migrate and under what terms–both of which are critical questions for global economic and social development. As a worker rights organization, we seek to advance labor migration that promotes shared prosperity by lifting up and empowering workers in both origin and destination countries.​