125 Migrant Sex Workers Arrested in Indonesia on New Year's Eve

Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent

One hundred and twenty-five migrants were arrested in raids on New Year's Eve in Indonesia. The raid on Sun City nightclub in West Jakarta saw 76 Chinese women arrested. An additional 49 migrants were also arrested during similar operations, with individuals coming from various countries such as Australia, Hong Kong, India, Papua New Guinea, France and Italy. As of 3 January, those detained through the raids remained held at the immigration detention center in Tangerang for further questioning. According to reports, it is likely they will be deported, though it is possible they could receive up to 5 years in jail and fines for breaking Indonesian immigration laws.

Immigration officials invited media to film the raid as it was conducted. Yurod Saleh, a director from the Immigration Office at the Law and Human Rights Ministry gloated to The Jakarta Post. He said, "it's a record for us. Many have been arrested and all are women. They were arrested for violating permits.” According to the IB Times, the raids resulted in confiscation of Chinese passports, mobile phones, lingerie and handbags, 15 million rupees in cash and contraceptives belonging to the women who were arrested.

These raids are happening at a time of rising xenophobia, sex worker-phobia and anti-Chinese sentiments in Indonesia. Indonesian officials announced plans in 2016 to shut down red-light districts and end sex work in Indonesia. The past year has also seen misleading rumours spread on social media regarding the number of Chinese workers in Indonesia alongside racist depictions of Chinese workers as coming to "steal" work from Indonesian locals.

Such sentiments can be traced back to Dutch colonial times. When the Dutch ruled Batavia, they granted special concessions to a handful of Chinese living in the port. Despite many of the Chinese people in Indonesia also living in poverty, resentment from native Indonesians and the Dutch towards the growing wealth of a small proportion of the Chinese community lead to open bigotry towards the minority population. Even when Indonesia declared independence from the Dutch at the end of the second world war, many Indonesians of Chinese descent were labeled ‘aliens’ and denied citizenship, despite living in Indonesia for generations.

Earlier in 2016, Indonesian officials announced that they intended to close down all red-light districts in the country by 2019. However, following the demolition of Jakarta’s oldest red-light district, Kalijodo, sex work did not stop. Rather, sex workers were forcibly displaced and many workers moved on to different areas and some switched to advertising online.