Frustrated and angry voices from far away: Returning home amid the pandemic
Amid increasing rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths, restrictions to mobility have been recommended to curb the spread of the disease throughout the world. For Indonesians, the ability to move, particularly overseas, has become a necessity in order to survive, and to a certain extent, succeed in life. This has been the case for two Indonesian gay men who are currently residing in Paris, France – Aditya* (45) and Bambang* (43). Aditya likened mobility to one’s ability to flow freely. He said,
‘Mobility for us is a kind of flowing water. The water is us and what flows is mobility.’
More than two years into the pandemic, both have longed to come home, but travel restrictions continue to bar them from doing so. Aditya is extremely frustrated:
‘When will this pandemic end? Government regulations are changing so that it makes people who want to travel confused, like me, when the airline suddenly cancelled my trip one day before leaving for Indonesia. I wanted to go to Jakarta just to meet my family and friends but, because of COVID-19, everything turned hopeless. We are very tired of working in other countries, and we want to enjoy our success in our own country. We also feel like imprisoned in France.’
Since the recent spread of the Omicron variant, many countries in the world have again resorted to measures to control the number of infections. Indonesia has increased border and mobility restrictions and extended quarantine, with the aim of limiting the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 in case it reaches the country. The situation has forced many businesses to close temporarily. Moreover, President Joko Widodo ordered the closure of several key destination areas should the number of infections increase. This could pose problems for many industries in Indonesia, as the pandemic’s economic impact will be particularly felt by micro, small and medium-sized businesses. Aditya, despite being frustrated, agrees to such measures:
‘Indeed, in times like this, we all have to respect what the government has done but, vice versa, the government must respect us. We are not 100% blaming the government, because in other countries, the same is being done to protect their citizens and foreigners living there. Now like it or not, we have to accept what the government says so that the virus doesn’t spread massively.’
Bambang is very upset about not being able to return to Indonesia.
‘Bullshit freedom and nonsense human rights! What's free? Everything is a mess. What I’m concerned about is that regulations in each country are always changing. We are confused about what to do, like in Indonesia. The Indonesian government’s position on how long the quarantine must be carried out keeps on changing, as well as what types of tests must be had.’
Aditya and Bambang expressed their sadness, anger and concern for their restricted mobility, limited access, and lack of freedom of movement. Like other epidemics before, governmental decisions aiming to curb COVID-19 continuously pose a threat to human freedom and mobility. But when a government imposes lockdowns, the public gets enraged due to the inability to access their daily necessities. Abrupt and frequent changes in policies have also contributed to increasing public outrage and frustration.
In the end, who is really to blame for the current situation: the people or the government? Aditya answers,
‘We do not blame the two. We understand that the government and society are working hard to reduce the spread of this virus but we as a society are also tired of what the government is doing. I don’t know who is to blame, what is clear now is that we must continue to hope and pray that in the years to come the spread of this virus will no longer be massive.’
Returning home amid the pandemic, and perhaps in its aftermath, is not a walk in the park. Apart from the financial, psychological and physical costs of overseas travel, the Indonesian government is adamant in suspending certain freedoms in order to protect public health and order. This means that, for migrants like Aditya and Bambang, the prospect of returning to their motherland in the near future has yet again turned bleak.
* Names have been changed.
Further reading and resources:
Kaligis, Fransiska, Madhyra Tri Indrawasri, and Raden Irawati Ismail. 2020. ‘Stress during COVID-19 pandemic: mental health condition in Indonesia’. Medical Journal of Indonesia 29(4), 436-441.
Chetail, Vincent. 2020. ‘COVID-19 and human rights of migrants: More protection for the benefit of all’. International Organisation of Migration.
Nouvellet, Pierre, Sangeeta Bhatia et al. 2021. ‘Reduction in mobility and COVID-19 transmission’. Nature Communications 12, article 1090.
Wisnu Adihartono is a sociologist based in Jakarta, Indonesia. He obtained a PhD in sociology from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), France. His areas of functional expertise are LGBT studies, gay studies, sociology of migration, diaspora studies, family studies, sociology of everyday life, micro-sociology and Southeast Asian studies. He is the author of Migration et soutien familial : Le cas des gays indonésiens à Paris, published by Generis Publishing (2020). He also works for the Global Advisory Committee at the Equal Asia Foundation (EAF) and he is a member of the Indonesian LGBTIQ+ NGO Suara Kita.