Foreign Ministry: Indonesians in Philippine Hajj Fraud 'Victims' Not Suspects

BY :NATASIA CHRISTY WAHYUNI

AUGUST 22, 2016

Jakarta. The Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry has called on the Philippines' immigration authorities to treat 177 Indonesians detained in a Hajj passport scam as victims rather than suspects, an official said on Sunday (21/08).

The 177 Hajj pilgrims were intercepted and detained by Philippine immigration officials at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Friday for allegedly attempting to travel to Saudi Arabia using forged Philippine passports. The travelers were assisted by five Philippine nationals who are alleged to have been paid between $6,000 and $10,000 in fees for each forged passport.

"We are working to treat the Indonesians as victims, they were only following the path. They were only following the path to [accessing the Philippines'] Hajj quota," Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, director for the protection of Indonesian citizens abroad at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said in Jakarta on Sunday.

He added he hopes that some of the nationals would testify as witnesses, not suspects, if the case reaches court.

The group, comprising of 100 women and 77 men, are currently being detained at the Bagong Diwa Bicutan detention facility in Manila. More than half of the group hail from South Sulawesi with the rest from across Java, Kalimantan and West Nusa Tenggara. The detained travelers are in a good and healthy condition, Iqbal said.

Initial investigations have revealed the Indonesians illegally obtained the passports to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca under and annual quota provided by the Saudi Arabian government to the Philippines.

The group arrived in the country as tourists a few weeks ago, before planning to depart for Medina.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, has a waiting list of more than 15 years for Hajj pilgrims. Under the quote system, Indonesia can send around 170,000 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia this year.

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