Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Outsourcing Border Security: NGO Involvement in the Monitoring, Processing and Assistance of Indonesian Nationals Returning Illegally by Sea

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Outsourcing Border Security: NGO Involvement in the Monitoring, Processing and Assistance of Indonesian Nationals Returning Illegally by Sea

Article excerpt

Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands. With over 54,000 kilo-metres of coastline, its national borders are mainly at sea. Managing these borders has proven to be a difficult exercise for a number of reasons. First, the complex legal issues that surround archipelagic states, and negotiations over the precise location of Indonesia's international boundaries, has meant that some of Indonesia's borders remain the subject of ongoing legal contestation. (1) A second associated issue concerns the mapping of exclusive economic zones (EEZ), particularly in relation to Indonesia's border with Australia, and its impact on the livelihoods of Indonesian fishers. (2) Third, fiscal and technological constraints have limited the capacity of the Indonesian authorities to police its borders. For example, it has been widely reported that the lack of funding, maintenance and spare parts has meant that the navy has few serviceable vessels and that no more than 25 naval ships are operational at any one time. (3)

The lack of political will or wherewithal to secure the border has meant that Indonesia is regarded internationally as a "hotspot" for smuggling (of goods, drugs, people and contraband), human trafficking, piracy and sea robbery, and terrorism. (4) These problems are increasingly being addressed through a range of bilateral and multilateral agreements and joint policing initiatives with Indonesia's nearest neighbours. In the Straits of Malacca, for example, security responses to trafficking and irregular migrant flows have converged with the increasingly visible presence of navy and customs boats as a result of bilateral and multilateral agreements and coordinated counter-piracy initiatives between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. (5) However, the presence of the navy in the Straits owing to these initiatives has not led to a reduction in "illegal" flows across this part of the border. Malaysian people smugglers--many of them bringing into Indonesia returning Indonesian migrant workers not in possession of formal paperwork --have established close connections with the Indonesian navy's local commands, which at times actively facilitate their landings.6 While this may be regarded as a form of corruption, the navy's involvement with people smugglers nonetheless ensures an orderly arrival process for the thousands of Indonesian citizens who return by sea every year without passing through a recognized entry port.

Despite the large numbers of arrivals, the Directorate-General of Immigration has shown little interest in Indonesian nationals returning illegally by sea. Instead, over time much of the work of assisting undocumented labour migrants returning to Indonesia has been undertaken by NGOs and intergovernmental organizations involved in counter-trafficking activities. (7) Intergovernmental organizations such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Office (ILO), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) play a significant role in assisting undocumented labour migrants, refugees and displaced persons in the region. NGOs, trade unions and church groups are also very active in providing welfare and labour rights assistance to returning undocumented labour migrants and refugees. Such groups, however, are rarely involved in border security and/or regulation. The direct involvement of NGOs in regulating crossborder migration thus signals a significant shift in the ways that the non-government sector has hitherto been involved in managing labour flows in the region.

This paper presents the case of Gerakan Anti-Trafficking (Anti-Trafficking Movement, GAT), a counter-trafficking NGO operating on the island of Batam. GAT is very different from other counter-trafficking NGOs. Instead of focusing on victim identification and repatriation assistance, it has become involved in the monitoring or apprehension of undocumented labour migrants who use the services of people smugglers to return to Indonesia without passing through an immigration checkpoint. …

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