6 June 2024

Indonesian police have this month arrested nearly 500 suspects involved in the trafficking of more than 1,500 victims, officials said Tuesday, as Jakarta cracks down on human smuggling.

Indonesia is one of the largest migrant worker-exporting nations in Southeast Asia, with hundreds of thousands from the poorest parts of the archipelago nation leaving the country every year through unofficial routes in search of higher-paying work.

Several shocking cases have highlighted the issue of human trafficking in the country in recent years and police created a human trafficking task force this month to ramp up efforts to stem the exploitation of Indonesians.

National police spokesman Ahmad Ramadhan told AFP authorities had rescued 1,553 victims in the last two weeks before they were trafficked out of the country.

“Within a short period of time, we managed to rescue this many people, but there are more people who have already left Indonesia,” he said.

Between June 5 and 18, police arrested 494 suspects and five major traffickers were still “being hunted down”, he said.

Many of the victims were rescued from illegal shelters on course to be trafficked as maids, boat crew or prostitutes, with several cases of child exploitation also included.

The United Nations says between 100,000 and one million people are sold into sex work or forced into labour every year in Indonesia.

International alarm is growing over internet scams in the region that are often staffed by trafficking victims tricked or coerced into promoting bogus crypto investments.

Jakarta has moved to increase probes, prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking, and has made efforts to repatriate victims trafficked to other Southeast Asian nations.

In the past year, Indonesia has rescued more than a thousand of its nationals working in online scams in Myanmar and Cambodia as the country tries to get a grip on the widespread problem.

Human trafficking is also a domestic problem across Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, a sprawling nation of more than 17,000 islands.

In one of the worst cases in recent years, at least 57 people were found caged on a palm oil plantation in North Sumatra last year.

They were lured to an alleged drug rehab facility and then put to work on the plantation.