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Indonesia, Philippines to tackle ‘organized crime’ in haj: Minister

Indonesia, Philippines to tackle ‘organized crime’ in haj: Minister Stranded -- In this photo provided by the Bureau of Immigration, Indonesians carrying Philippine passports wait after being intercepted by Philippine immigration authorities on Aug. 19 at Manila's airport, before boarding their flight for Saudi Arabia to go on the haj. Officials said the 177 Indonesian passengers' identities were revealed because they could not speak any Philippine language or dialect and could only converse in English. (Bureau of Immigration via AP/-)
Liza Yosephine
Jakarta   ●   Mon, August 29, 2016

The Indonesian government has vowed to reveal what it calls a criminal syndicate behind the recent use of illegally obtained Philippine passports by Indonesian pilgrims.

Indonesia and the Philippines were determined to uncover the parties involved in the network that misused spare slots in the Philippines’ haj quota and “exploited” Indonesian Muslims interested in going on the haj, Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said on Monday.

"The Religious Affairs Ministry, the National Police, the Law and Human Rights Ministry and its Immigration Office continue to investigate the case together with the Philippine government. The Philippines is also very concerned about this type of crime, because it has repeatedly happened for quite a long period of time through an organized crime syndicate," Lukman said in his remarks at a working meeting with the House of Representatives' Commission VIII, which overseeing religious and social affairs.

The meeting discussed the recent arrest of 177 Indonesian haj pilgrims by Philippine authorities for using illegally obtained Philippine passports. They claimed they were lured to go on the haj via Manila, because the haj waiting list in the Philippines was not as long as in Indonesia.

Lukman explained that a number of haj and umroh operators in Indonesia were found to have cooperated with individuals who had vested interests in monetizing the spare haj slots in the Philippines.

He said the Religious Affairs Ministry would team up with relevant parties to prevent similar cases from happening in the future.

The minister reiterated that eight travel operators allegedly involved in the case had no permits from the Religious Affairs Ministry. "What has happened here is a scam, and it is criminal," Lukman asserted. (ebf)