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Jakarta investigates academics in ‘people trafficking’ probe



Several Indonesian academics are being investigated for “people trafficking” after more than 1,000 students were allegedly press-ganged into menial German jobs that had been touted as credit-earning internships.

Indonesian National Police (INP) has launched a probe into the exploitation of 1,047 students from 33 of the republic’s universities. They were reportedly hoodwinked into working 12 hours or more a day in factories, cafés, construction sites and fast-food outlets, having been told it was part of an official internship programme introduced by Indonesian education minister Nadiem Makarim in 2019.

They were actually participating in the Ferienjob or “vacation job” scheme, which allows foreign students to work for up to three months in Germany during semester breaks, offering a first-world income and life experience, but no study benefits whatsoever.

Investigators have questioned three local academics and issued arrest warrants for two Indonesian nationals in Germany. Djuhandhani Rahardjo Puro, INP’s director of general crimes, said the suspects included a professor in a public university in the central Sumatran city of Jambi. 

INP said he had pocketed 48 million rupiah (£2,400) from the scheme. His success in channelling students into the so-called internships had also improved his work performance metrics, it said.

Indonesia’s Antara news agency reported that students had been charged excessive fees, including €150 (£129) for campus acceptance letters, €200 for work permits and up to 50 million rupiah for other expenses. 

Beranda Perempuan, a women’s rights organisation in Jambi, said 87 students from the local university had been caught up in the scam. It said the organisers trapped the students into debt by advancing funds to cover accommodation and airfares – charged at “twice the normal price” – and levying interest of 5 per cent.

“This debt must be paid in instalments from the wages received by students after work,” the organisation reported. It said one student had been expelled after reporting her case to Indonesian diplomats in Germany, while another had been suspended “for not paying the loan”.

INP said it had launched the investigation after being alerted by Indonesia’s embassy in Berlin in March. Hadi Tjahjanto, coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said INP was working with the foreign affairs ministry and the education ministry’s higher degree directorate “to unravel the complexities of the students’ recruitment process”.

Indonesian vice-president Ma’ruf Amin said the “shameful matter” had tarnished his country’s reputation. The House of Representatives Commission on Education said the ministry must take “a more proactive role” in preventing such abuses, according to Antara.

The Coordinating Ministry for Human Development and Cultural Affairs said it hoped the episode would not discourage students from seeking internships abroad, because domestic businesses could not satisfy demand.

Germany plays an important capacity building role in Indonesia, particularly in vocational education. Indonesian labour minister Ida Fauziyah visited Berlin in March to discuss measures to place nurses and other skilled Indonesian workers in Germany. 

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) interviewed one of the suspects, who denied any wrongdoing. “We follow all the regulations from Germany, and Germany itself has very strict regulations,” she said. 

DW reported that Indonesian university representatives said they had been duped. “What we are doing is not a criminal act of human trafficking but purely an academic activity,” one said.

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