By Beh Lih Yi
KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - I ndonesia has arrested eight suspects in what police on Tuesday called the country's biggest ever human trafficking bust, involving 1,200 victims taken abroad as domestic workers.
Police said they had uncovered four syndicates that trafficked victims to Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey with the promise of high-paying jobs since 2014.
When the victims arrived, their wages were withheld and some were sexually abused.
"This is the biggest case that the national police have uncovered because it involved more than 1,000 victims," national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said on an official Twitter account.
He did not say whether the victims were male or female, but most of the Indonesians who go abroad to do domestic work are women.
The suspects were arrested in March, according to local media, and are expected to be charged under anti-trafficking laws that carry a jail term of up to 15 years.
Hundreds of thousands of Indonesian women go to Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan every year for domestic work, despite reports of widespread abuses and near slave-like living conditions.
Since 2015, Indonesia has banned women from going to 21 Middle Eastern countries following a series of abuse cases, but high demand for maids has encouraged traffickers to find ways around the curbs.
Labour rights campaigners lauded the announcement on Tuesday but said it showed human trafficking remained widespread in the country of 260 million people.
"The government has tried to address this issue, but the latest arrests show a lot more needs to be done and it is still a major problem," said Anis Hidayah from the non-profit Migrant Care, which campaigns for migrant domestic workers.
"We hope the arrests will serve as a deterrent," the executive director told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jakarta.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)