How a Returning Migrant Worker Helps Build Solidarity

A number of migrant workers gathering

When former migrant worker Roni Saefudin heard that the broker who secured work for him in Chinese Taipei overcharged his family for arranging the placement, he might have become fixated on the debt. Instead, the experience fueled his desire to assist others he met in precarious situations—starting with Ninik, a fellow Indonesian whose salary had been withheld by an employer who also confiscated her telephone.

Contacting a hotline for migrant workers in Chinese Taipei on behalf of Ninik was just the beginning for Mr Saefudin. After he returned home, he learned that the 200,000 to 300,000 migrant workers Indonesia sends abroad annually can be just as vulnerable when they come home. “They go abroad to earn money in the hopes of improving their lives and paying for their children's education. But when they return, many do not have savings,” he said.

In 2018, Mr. Safefudin was able to grow a modest coffee and grocery business thanks to a mentoring program organized by the Indonesian Labour Migrants Union (SBMI), with Gadjah Mada University. The experience prompted him to become an active member of SBMI, helping other returnees.

That help has proven more crucial than ever since COVID-19, when many of the 250,000 migrant workers who returned to Indonesia have struggled to access the support they need. An IOM-SBMI survey showed that although many returnees came home with no savings, home gardening continued to help meet their food needs and prevented them from going into debt.

Recreating the solidary he found abroad back home through a marketplace established by SBMI to help returnees sell their produce has been inspiring, Mr. Safefudin said: “I have my spirit back to fight for the opportunity to improve the economy of former migrant workers. Their lives must be better in their homeland."