Despite Immense Challenges, Community Paralegals Pursue Justice for Migrant Victims

October 31, 2018
Category: Partnerships

Community-based Paralegals at JWB’s Training in Cilacap, Indonesia

Legal help is scarce in Indonesia for returning migrant workers. Many who were victimised while migrating for work come from remote or low-income areas where lawyers are few and far between. For these returnees, their fellow community members are their only source of help.

In response, community members have banded together to form local migrant aid organisations. Across the country, these volunteers take on the mantle of community-based paralegals. Together, they help victims who suffered violations ranging from unpaid wages and overwork, to exploitation and abuse in the course of their employment abroad.

Community-based paralegals form the backbone of access to justice for migrant workers in Indonesia. Passionate and driven, they often are themselves former migrant workers or have family who have gone abroad. Many have even personally experienced the exploitation themselves.

However, these volunteers are often confronted with multiple obstacles to their work. These include lack of access to formal legal training, vast distances separating them from the bad actors in host countries, intimidation from local employment agencies, and often rudimentary local infrastructure that makes travel and communication difficult.

Despite these daunting challenges, paralegals forge on in their determination to see justice served for their clients. They and their grassroots organisations are vital partners in JWB’s work.

A community-based paralegal practicing claim identification at JWB’s training


Too often, paralegals have experienced acts of intimidation or harassment from bad actors trying to compel them to drop the migrant worker cases. Threats of violence from armed men appearing at local organisations’  and family members’ doorsteps are frequently reported.

Ms. Sri Aryani, JWB’s Indonesia Head of Office, has worked with many of these grassroots organisations for years.  “I truly admire these paralegals. Despite encountering numerous obstacles, they work together and provide support for each other. Many of the community leaders I have met dedicate their entire waking hours to organising more support for migrant worker victims and paralegals,” she said.

Alone, an individual paralegal cannot hope to tackle the outsized power and resources that unscrupulous employers or agencies can bring to bear. However, as a group, they can build the strength and resources needed to successfully push back and advocate for individual workers.

As part of our effort to amplify their strength, we are working to partner them on real cases with similar organisations across the region. These partnerships go far deeper than simple networks of people working in the same space; instead, they instead form a team, working towards justice on a shared case.

With these additional resources, grassroots organisations can reach beyond their own communities to address victims’ needs from start to finish, across the entire migration route.

JWB is proud to continue to build such vital connections between these organisations and the law firms and aid agencies abroad. Together, we can help ensure that all victims have access to justice, even after returning home.