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After beheading, Indonesia stops sending workers to Saudi Arabia

From Kathy Quiano, CNN
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Indonesian govt. reacts to execution
  • NEW: The moratorium goes into effect August 1
  • NEW: Saudi Arabia has apologized
  • The Indonesian government says it should have been informed prior to the beheading
  • Migrant workers send $7 billion back to Indonesia each year, the World Bank says

Jakarta (CNN) -- Indonesia will impose a moratorium on sending workers to Saudi Arabia, effective August 1, the country said late Wednesday. The move comes after the Gulf kingdom beheaded an Indonesian worker without first informing the Indonesian government.

"The government has decided to impose a moratorium on the placement of informal Indonesian migrant workers to Saudi Arabia effective August 1, 2011, until an Indonesian-Saudi memorandum of understanding on the protection of migrant workers is signed and a bilateral joint task force is established," the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration said on its website.

Public furor erupted after the beheading on June 16 of Ruyati binti Satubi, a 54-year-old migrant worker. Ruyati was executed for killing her employer's wife. Indonesia says it was in the process of seeking her clemency.

Late Wednesday, Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene told CNN that Saudi Arabia had apologized for not informing Indonesia before the execution was carried out.

It is important that Indonesia is sending a strong message to Saudi Arabia. That it is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia to execute one of its nationals without informing them.
--Nisha Varia, Human Rights Watch.

Indonesia filed a diplomatic protest with Saudi Arabia and summoned its ambassador in Jakarta for clarification. It also recalled the Indonesian ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

On Tuesday, authorities scrambled to save another Indonesian migrant worker from execution in Saudi Arabia.

Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it paid about $525,000 or Rp 4.7 billion, as compensation to the family of a Saudi man whom the migrant worker said she killed in self-defense. She said her employer tried to rape her. The family agreed to spare her life in exchange for the money, said Abdul Wahid Maktub, an adviser to the Indonesian ministry.

Prior to the announcement of the moratorium. Migrant Care Executive Director Anisa Hidaya had said it would represent "momentum for improvement" and emphasize "a firm stance on the part of Indonesia towards Saudi Arabia."

Twenty-three other Indonesians are on death row in the Arab kingdom and an estimated 345 have been condemned in Malaysia.

"It is important that Indonesia is sending a strong message to Saudi Arabia," Human Rights Watch Senior Women's Rights Researcher Nisha Varia told CNN. "That it is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia to execute one of its nationals without informing them."

However, Varia said the latest incident was not a surprise, given Saudi Arabia's treatment of its foreign workers. It also highlights, she added, that Indonesia needs to better protect its citizens who seek employment abroad.

Anger has been brewing in recent years over allegations of abuse of Indonesian workers by employers, particularly toward domestic helpers. Activists are demanding the Indonesian government review its policies and regulations in the recruitment and deployment of migrant workers.

But the moratorium will not stop Indonesians from illegally entering these countries and might expose them to more risks, Varia said. Indonesia would benefit from working with other countries like the Philippines, whose government sends representatives abroad to demand better employment conditions for its workers.

Of the 4.3 million documented Indonesians working overseas, some 1.2 million are in Saudi Arabia and another 1.2 million are in Malaysia. An estimated 3 million others are undocumented, according to the Indonesian Placement and Protection of Overseas Workers agency.

Indonesia had already begun negotiations with Saudi Arabia on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would stipulate better protection and employment conditions for its workers, Maktub said. The moratorium may speed the signing of the agreement, which had been expected by the end of the year.

"There is a huge reformation internally and the demand for Indonesian workers in Saudi Arabia is very high," Maktub said. Arrangements with other labor recipient countries will also be reviewed, he added. After a two-year suspension, Indonesia has just signed an MOU with Malaysia and resumed sending workers there.

The impact of the moratorium on Indonesia and on the millions of Indonesians looking for better paying jobs overseas is unclear. According the World Bank, remittances from migrants to the country exceeded $7 billion last year.