Coronavirus: From chartered flights to care packages, Indonesia helps its nationals stranded overseas

Indonesians who had been stranded in Egypt board a special Air Cairo flight home on June 21, 2020. PHOTO: THE JAKARTA POST

JAKARTA - It was past 8pm on March 23 when student Hayyu Imanda, 26, put out a call for help to Indonesia's consulate in Cape Town.

Her second attempt at securing a flight out of South Africa to Jakarta had failed.

She would later learn that the country would go into a nationwide lockdown within three days.

Ms Hayyu, a doctorate student of cyber security at Oxford University who had flown in from England, prided herself on being meticulous - someone with "plan A through to plan Z", she said. Now she was stuck.

But with a call to the number on the website of Indonesia's consulate, she would land a bed for the night in the mission's guest house.

She would eventually get to stay in a room at the residence of the consular general and his wife for six weeks while a repatriation flight for another 27 Indonesians stranded in South Africa was arranged.

"I don't know what I would have done," Ms Hayyu, who arrived home in Jakarta on May 8, told The Straits Times.

"He told me that the residence belonged to the country and because of the emergency, I had a right to be there."

Indonesia's diplomats around the world have been working behind the scenes, offering aid to nearly half a million of its citizens stranded abroad during the pandemic.

Diplomats have distributed 485,000 care packages of instant noodles, rice, sardines and other staples while repatriating nearly 118,000 of their countrymen as of Tuesday (June 23), according to government data.

Included in the tally are 24,000 cruise ship workers, with 1,000 of them from the Caribbean last month, through Indonesia's embassy in Bogota, Colombia.

But most of the nine million Indonesians working overseas are doing so illegally, making it tough to track them down.

In Malaysia, home to an estimated three million Indonesian migrant workers, the challenge was even more daunting.

The embassy in Kuala Lumpur said a mobile app has helped log details of 400,000 Indonesians working in Malaysia.

During Malaysia's 13-week lockdown, which ended on June 9, Indonesia's embassy in Kuala Lumpur resembled a logistics centre dealing with a humanitarian crisis, Indonesian diplomats said.

The mission's 160 staff and diplomats offloaded truckloads of provisions sourced from a network of supermarkets, including 200 tonnes of rice apportioned into 137,000 care packages.

Indonesia's five consulates across the country distributed a similar number.

At its peak in Kuala Lumpur, eight trucks delivered 5,000 packages to workers' dormitories and wherever else stranded Indonesians were sheltering, every day - each package weighing 8kg.

Embassy staff relied on the help of police escorts to navigate through road blocks set up to enforce the lockdown.

For Mr Agung Cahaya Sumirat, the counsellor of information and cultural affairs at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the lifting and sorting was a big change from his more salubrious postings at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and Indonesia's consulate general in Vancouver, Canada.

"I didn't need my suit," Mr Agung said, recalling the distribution effort that ended on June 16. Now, the packages are for pick-ups only.

"This is the real work of a diplomat. This is citizen protection."

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