Hajj pilgrims say their farewell at Bali's Ngurah Rai Airport. (Antara Photo/Nyoman Budhiana)

Travel Agency Blamed for Hajj Passport Scam

BY :EKO PRASETYO & NOVI SETUNINGSIH

AUGUST 23, 2016

Jakarta. Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the travel agency that tried to take 177 Indonesian hajj pilgrims to Mecca using forged Philippine passports — and left them stranded at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Friday — should take responsibility for their action.

Kalla said many more Indonesians apply for the annual hajj pilgrimage than the quota of 188,000 set by the Saudi Arabia government, leading to some travel agencies to resort to desperate actions to satisfy the overwhelming demand.

"They [the stranded pilgrims] were set up, they didn't know they had to travel through the Philippines on forged passports. If they knew what they were doing was illegal, they would not have gone. The travel agency should take responsibility," Kalla said at his office in Jakarta on Monday (22/08).

Kalla said Indonesia’s hajj quota is likely to be increased once new constructions around the Masjidil Haram mosque — where the holy Kaaba is located — are completed.

New hotels and other hajj facilities built around the sacred mosque will reduce the hajj waiting list for Indonesians to 10 years, according to Kalla, from 20 years at the moment.

"People in Sulawesi often have to wait for 20 years to go to Mecca. For Javanese, the wait is around 15 years. Too many people want to go to Mecca but the holy city simply can't cope with that many people currently," Kalla said.

"But once the new constructions are finished, the Saudi government should increase our hajj quota by at least 50 percent," Kalla said.

Passport forgers victims, not suspects

Meanwhile, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry — through its embassy in Manila — has declared the stranded pilgrims as victims, not suspects, in the passport scam.

The director of Indonesian citizens and legal entities protection agency, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, said the embassy is collecting data from the Immigration Office to ascertain the citizenships of the stranded pilgrims.

Based on data available at the moment, more than half of the detained pilgrims came from South Sulawesi, with the rest coming from Java, East and North Kalimantan, Jakarta, Jambi, Riau, Sumbawa, Yogyakarta, Banten and Lampung.

The National Police have also started an investigation into the case, according to its criminal investigation unit chief Comr. Gen. Ari Dono Sukmanto.

Investigators say they suspected a massive syndicate is behind the passport scam, which may have been going on for years but only came to light because of the incident in Manila.

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