Giving ex-migrants a voice to tell their stories

Our Indonesian partner organization Infest provides former labor migrants and family members of migrants the skills and space to spread their stories. They are trained to become citizen journalists and will eventually have their own magazine. Not only can they process their distressing experiences – they can prevent their peers from falling victim to trafficking in person.

The citizen journalism training took place in Blitar, a small city on the Indonesian island of Java. This was the kind of place where time still passes slower, where you could see families sitting in front of their small homes, where banana plants, palm trees and the occasional crowing of a rooster create a relaxed atmosphere. However, you could also sense that work opportunities must be scarce here.

When we arrived at the venue for the 2-day workshop on citizen journalism, a simple room with colorful carpets laid out to sit on, the participants were already expectantly gathered. They were 15 men and women of the villages Jatinom, Godo Deso and Pandanarum, and are engaged in KOPIs (community organizations for Indonesian migrant workers) of their communities. Most of them have lived abroad for several years as migrant workers, others have family members currently abroad. In 2016, over 9 million Indonesians were active migrant workers, a number that is equivalent to almost 7 percent of Indonesia’s total labor force*. This is not necessarily bad, however, nearly half* of them are undocumented, making them vulnerable to trafficking and human rights violations, including physical abuse and exploitation. Among the reasons for men and women to accept unverified work abroad are poverty and desperation for income, along with a lacking awareness of the dangers and their own rights.

Infest is committed to enhance public access to information and conduct advocacy and awareness on the issue. Citizen journalism is one of the sustainable approaches to village awareness and education, through empowering the affected groups to speak up themselves. The participants will obtain skills to write articles on labor migration - about their experiences, about the dangers and risks, recommendations and workers’ rights. The articles will be published in a village magazine currently run by Infest, who will step-by-step pass the responsibility to the newly formed journalist group. The magazine will be distributed to all households of the three villages, who will be able to relate easily to the words of their peers.

When we asked Wanti, one of the participants, about her relation to writing she told us, “When I was in Taiwan, smartphones weren’t a thing yet. I couldn’t go out and had nothing to do after work, so writing was an outlet.” A community counseling organization had recommended to her to write a diary as a form of therapy when Wanti was facing the challenges of living abroad as a domestic worker in Taiwan. Many female migrant domestic workers suffer under excessive working hours and are not granted to move freely outside of their employer’s house, pressured by having their passports or salaries detained. Also, cases of physical and sexual abuse are not unheard of.

To enable Wanti and the other participants to share their experiences and warn others about undocumented labor migration, Pandhu, an author for a regional newspaper with 10 years of writing experience taught them journalistic techniques, such as data collection, writing and narrative methods, and even included practical tips on picture-taking with their basic smart phones. Infest added relevant knowledge and facts about labor migration and human trafficking and pointed out reliable sources for migration data. When Infest walked the participants through the ideal (documented and safe) migration process, even the participants who have been migrant workers themselves were learning new aspects, which indicates how widely omitted and unknown the official process is.

Raising awareness and spreading information is a significant part of fighting human trafficking, however, as long as poverty prevails, marginalized groups of society will remain vulnerable to questionable job offers abroad. In this first part of the project, the magazine cannot provide the citizen journalists a source of income, but it does open opportunities. If the project proves successful, additional village funds and developmental cooperation funds can be granted, and as the citizen journalists gain experience, work opportunities might emerge.

Even without the economic factor, the participants were highly motivated and enthusiastic to improve their communities and prevent their peers from going into “bad migration”.


The training on citizen journalism was held on September 22, 2018 in Desa Jatinom, Blitar Regency, East Java as part of the 3-year project Empowerment of Indonesian migrant workers in East Java and Malaysia. The project is executed by Infest (Institute for Education Development, Social, Religious, and Cultural studies) and supported by AWO International through funds of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).


*According to World Banks publication titled “Indonesia Global Workers, Juggling opportunities and risks” pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/357131511778676366/Indonesias-Global-Workers-Juggling-Opportunities-Risks.pdf