Intan is an Indonesian woman who was enslaved in Malaysia doing work that was hazardous to her health. Foreign workers constitute more than 20 percent of the Malaysian workforce and typically migrate voluntarily—often illegally—to Malaysia from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian countries, often in pursuit of better economic opportunities. However, workers can find themselves imprisoned, exploited, and in debt bondage. The law allows many of the fees of migration, which are first paid by employers, to be deducted from workers’ wages, incentivizing employers to prevent workers from ending their employment before fees are recovered.
The arrangement was that I would be a domestic worker but I spent my days cleaning ditches using Clorox, a whitening substance. My feet were ruined because they did not provide me with shoes. We were only given brushes, but we did not get shoes. My feet hurt. I was there for eight months when I got word from my family that my child need to undergo surgery. I asked for my salary, so that I can send some money, but my employer didn’t give it to me. Two months later my child was discharged from the hospital, but two months afterwards he got infected and was readmitted to the hospital. Again I asked but he never gave me that money. Not ever. I worked for that employer for one and a half years.
During the second month of 2006 my employer called my recruiting agent. My employer said that he will be going on a trip for one month to India. He talked with the agent in Tamil, my employer was an Indian and so was my agent. They conversed using Tamil. After they finished talking I was told to gather my clothes. I asked where I was going because I was still working, my work hours was not yet up. “Just come with me,” he said. I asked how will I return? How about my money? He told me just to go along. Because they were talking to each other in Tamil, I assumed that my money was already handed over to the agent.
One month has passed. My employer had not returned so I then went to his mother’s house. I asked the mother where my employer was—why had he not given the agent my salary? She told me “I have no business with you. Your business is with my son. My son said your salary is with your agent.”
As told to International Organization for Migration (IOM) affiliates at a shelter in Jakarta, Indonesia, in November 2005.