"I need to explain that our brothers being detained by the Philippine immigration authority are the victims of an organized crime," Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said.
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The fact that would-be hajj pilgrims currently booking a slot will be able to depart for the Holy Land only after a wait of more than ten years could have caused some pilgrims to seek a short-cut method.

Before 2013, Indonesia had a quota of 211,000 pilgrims who could visit Saudi Arabia to perform the fifth pillar of the Islamic tenets. The quota is based on a formula of one pilgrim for every 1,000 of a countrys population.

However, with the renovation of the Haram Mosque in Mecca going on for over three years now, the Indonesian quota of 211,000 was reduced to 168,000. This made the long waiting list of Indonesian hajj pilgrims even longer.

Now, over 2.5 million would-be hajj pilgrims are on the waiting list. So, if the quota of 168,000 continues, Indonesia would need about 15 years to send the last batch of the would-be pilgrims. In addition, the number of devouts who register every year continues to increase.

Therefore, many Indonesian Muslims who want to make a pilgrimage to Mecca might be frustrated to see the long waiting list. The arrest of 177 Indonesian would-be pilgrims on Saturday in Manila for having used fake Philippine passports is just an example.

There is little chance that they can go to Saudi Arabia anytime soon, and are ready to take recourse to fake passports and even risk of not receiving any services from the Indonesian hajj officials in the Holy Land.

After all, the Indonesian government will not provide service to Indonesians going to the Holy Land through illegal channels.

Inspector General of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, M Jasin, said the people who conduct hajj pilgrim outside the Indonesian hajj quota will not receive services in the Holy Land.

"We have to be firm. If they do not avail of the official quota, they will not get our services. This is intended to prevent them from going there illegally," said Jasin on Tuesday.

He made the remarks in response to the arrest of 177 Indonesians in the Philippines on Saturday (Aug 20).

"If their reason is that the waiting list was too long, we hope that we would have additional quota with the completion of the Haram Mosque expansion project. We will have the same quota as it was before 2013," he said.

It was reported earlier that a total of 177 would-be Indonesian Hajj pilgrims were detained by the immigration officials at the Manila airport as they were caught with fake passports. The Indonesians were detained by the Philippine immigration officials on Friday, Aug. 19, 2016, shortly before they were scheduled to board a flight to Medina, Saudi Arabia.

Director of Protection for Indonesian Citizens and Indonesian Legal Agency, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, noted earlier that a team from the Indonesian Embassy in Manila and Indonesian Foreign Ministry had identified the 177 Indonesians currently being held at the Immigration detention center in Manila.

They had reportedly paid some US$6,000-$10,000 per person for the pilgrimage.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi stated that the 177 Indonesians being detained in the Philippines are victims of an organized crime.

"I need to explain that our brothers being detained by the Philippine immigration authority are the victims of an organized crime," the minister stated in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Therefore, the Indonesian government is seeking to resolve the problem. The minister said Indonesia has contacted the Philippine Foreign Ministry, urging it to give special attention and handle the 177 Indonesian would-be Hajj pilgrims on grounds that they are victims of an organized crime.

"Yesterday, I contacted the Philippine Foreign Ministry and spoke to the Philippine undersecretary to give special attention to the case," she remarked, stressing that the 177 Indonesians were actually victims.

Minister Retno said she has received information from the Philippine government that the use of Philippine passports by Indonesians often occurs in the Philippines. This unlawful practice is followed to utilize the Philippine Hajj quota due to the limited quota for Indonesia.

"Of course, the unlawful deed must be dealt with, and what is needed to be done now is to provide maximal legal protection to them," she noted.

The foreign ministry is closely coordinating with the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, Ministry of Religious Affairs, and National Police in its efforts to repatriate the 177 Indonesians

Indonesias Minister for Religious Affairs Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said the government will continue its efforts to bring home 177 Indonesian Hajj pilgrims detained in the Philippines.

The Indonesian nationals were detained in Manila when Ninoy Aquino International Airports immigration officers caught them with counterfeit Philippines passport, moments before they were scheduled to depart to Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage.

"This is a clear case of fraud where 177 people were lured to go for Hajj pilgrimage using illegal passports as they were unaware of the consequences," observed Saifuddin, who was on a working visit to Pontianak, West Kalimantan, on Tuesday.

The pilgrims departed from the country for the Philippines using Indonesian passports. They were scheduled to depart for Saudi Arabia from the Philippines using Philippine passports

According to M. Jasin, the Ministry of Religious Affairs will assume responsibility.

Jasin told the press on Tuesday that although these Indonesian would-be hajj pilgrims violated the immigration rules and the case falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, yet the Ministry of Religious Affairs will bear responsibility to resolve it. The minister of religious affairs is currently coordinating to resolve the issue.

The Religious Affairs Ministry has set up a special legal team to deal with cases in which hajj pilgrims fall prey to mischievous travel bureaus. In cooperation with the National Police (Polri), the team will help the police to enforce the law and bring to book negligent travel agencies suspected of having violated the law.(*)

Reporter: Aandi Abdussalam
Editor: Heru Purwanto
Copyright © ANTARA 2016