Community-based paralegals form the backbone of access to justice for migrant workers returning to Indonesia. Many workers come from remote or low-income areas, where lawyers are scarce and the cost of legal services are incredibly high. Community paralegals step in to fill the gap.
However, these paralegals face multiple obstacles in helping victims claim compensation for what they suffered abroad. These include a lack of access to practical legal and case management training and no connections to pro bono lawyers in host countries.
Since its inception, Justice Without Borders (JWB) has been working with community-based paralegals and their affiliated frontline organisations across the region to connect clients to pro bono lawyers and train them to identify claims, manage cases and collect evidence. However, such trainings can only serve as the starting point for frequently needed intensive support.
In 2019, JWB partnered with the Swiss Embassy in Indonesia to take its capacity-building work to pilot this intensive support. Our Jakarta office launched a 6-month internship program targeted at migrant worker communities in Lampung, Ponorogo and Blitar. Four highly motivated community-based paralegals, each from PERTAKINA (Former Indonesian Workers’ Association), SBMI (Migrant worker union) in Lampung, SBMI Malang and SBMI Banyuwangi, were sponsored to undertake this program.
“Our goal was to elevate our partners to higher levels of technical knowledge, ability and capacity in civil compensation claims. Newly empowered community-based paralegals could better help workers with a broad range of cases. We targeted support for those returning from our main host countries of Hong Kong and Singapore, and more generally for all returnees who have claims under the local Indonesian system,” said Yooke Damopolii, Head of Office for JWB in Indonesia.
“Ultimately, this improved capacity will enable these local organisations to widen their outreach, leading to increased compensation, while holding more abusers accountable,” continued Yooke.
Phase 1 – Knowledge Building
Phase 1 of the internship program started in July 2019 at the JWB office in Depok. Participants spent 2 weeks at the JWB office learning a curriculum that included:
– Migrant Workers Regulations and Rights in S’pore and Hong Kong
– The Legal System & Submission of Civil Claims in S’pore & Hong Kong
– Evidence Collection and Gender Sensitivity in Handling Cases.
Interns also received field exposure in the capital of Jakarta, including meetings with the Ministry of Manpower, National Ombudsman’s Office, the Police Center and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to gain institutional insights on migrant worker issues from the government’s perspective.
Phase 2 – Sharing and Applied Learning to Home Organisation
At the end of Phase 1, the interns returned to their home organisation to share and work on what they had learned with their colleagues. They were also tasked to draw up a work plan to improve their organisations’ internal processes with the standardised procedures that they had learned in the program. Using their newly acquired knowledge, they also reviewed their case files to identify potentially viable cases.
Phase 3 – Practice & Application
After spending 3 weeks back in their organisations, participants returned to the JWB office for Phase 3, where they shared their discussions and progress made in their home organisation. They also shared and received guidance from JWB on the new cases that they had identified.
Towards the end of this phase, with these cases in hand, participants visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Social Security Administrator for Health office, Witness and Victim Protection Agency and police department, where they discussed the merits of the cases they had identified. This was an important part of the program where participants could bring their cases that they had identified and prepared to external authorities for verification and validation.
“This phase of the project was especially useful, because it not only increased our skills but gave us confidence to refer cases to the relevant authorities,” said Septy, one of the Swiss Embassy project interns.
Phase 4 – Community Outreach
The final phase of the project saw participants tasked to return to their hometowns to coordinate village discussions with at least two villages. It is hoped that this would lead to the establishment of Help Desks, (Pos Pengaduan) where local residents can seek help about potential migrant worker issues. This would simultaneously enable paralegals to reach out to more former migrant workers and have hands-on experience in claim identification and case development. As before, JWB will be on hand to facilitate these discussions and guide the participants.
From Participants to Leaders
Since the programme, our participants have become strong advocates for transborder access to justice, and feel empowered to help migrant worker victims they meet. To date, each has trained an additional 20 to 25 paralegals, increasing available manpower within their respective organisation. Through their community outreach projects, they have also engaged with over 500 participants, including students, returned migrant workers, prospective migrant workers and their families, village leaders and other community members.
The program’s intensive focus and clear learning objectives shows much promise as a model in taking our partner organisations’ abilities to the next level. We thank the Swiss Embassy in Indonesia for their gracious sponsorship to help us bring access to justice to more migrant workers in Indonesia. We look forward to expanding this very successful program further in Indonesia and beyond.