Trapped in Shelters: Domestic Workers' Dilemma



Laila Afifa

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  • Trapped in shelters: Domestic workers' dilemma.

    Trapped in shelters: Domestic workers' dilemma.

    TEMPO.CO, JakartaThey left home seeking a better future, lured by a dream to be free from the shackles of poverty, only to risk returning with nothing or little to show for the years spent abroad.

    While a common tale among migrant workers, domestic workers are even more likely to find themselves vulnerable with little chance of escaping exploitative behavior by irresponsible and occasionally cruel employers.

    Even for those who escaped, migrant domestic workers who seek shelter in government, NGO or embassy-run facilities may find themselves at another crossroads - to choose between reclaiming their rights or going home and starting anew.

    It was slightly past 7 pm on a Tuesday evening and a group of about a dozen women were sitting in two rows along a corridor.

    Like every other night, they had just finished dinner and their chatter whiled away time spent at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur's (KBRI) shelter.

    Hidden out of sight from the bustling daily crowd of hundreds lining up to process their travel documents, the shelter comprises five bedrooms, a communal kitchen, shared bathroom, prayer room, laundry, and since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic - a quarantine section for newcomers.

    Women in KBRI's shelter are chatting after dinner.

    Following an assignment roster posted on the wall, residents in each bedroom take turns carrying out the daily cooking and cleaning tasks. They were not permitted to purchase food at the public canteen.

    Another sign listed 21 more rules to be followed, including a 10 pm bedtime, no leaving the premises unless with permission, no switching rooms and no possession of electronic devices.

    "We can accommodate a maximum of around 50 to 60 people. The condition is not ideal," conceded KBRI KL counselor Rijal Al Huda, in charge of its administration.

    "One room can fit 10 to 15 people at once, some on bunk beds while others lay mattresses on the floor," he said.

    Quizzed on the ban on electronic devices, Rijal said it was intended as a safekeeping measure "to avoid things from going missing". He was quick to add that calls or messages are accessible via a landline in the office and the shelter coordinator's mobile phone.

    Additionally, Rijal said the embassy is also renting another house that is used to shelter mostly mothers with children or those in need of more space.

    Entering the embassy's main gate, as written on a whiteboard in the guardhouse, there were 29 women at the shelter as of Dec 6 and three children. There were also another 12 women and three children in the second facility, bringing the total number to 47.

    This year up to Dec 3, 321 women and children have been repatriated from the shelter.