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Jakarta Post

Batam tightens border controls after fishermen abduction

  • Fadli

    The Jakarta Post

Batam   /   Tue, January 21, 2020   /   05:13 pm
Batam tightens border controls after fishermen abduction Alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf group pose with weapons. (Via The Star/ANN/-)

The Batam Immigration Office in the Riau Islands has tightened its control on the border between Indonesia and Malaysia following the abduction of Indonesian fishermen by the notorious Abu Sayyaf militant group in the waters off Sabah.

Ten Indonesians were prevented from crossing the border on Sunday after they failed to show certain required documents.

Office head Romi Yudianto said the measure was taken to prevent more Indonesian migrant workers from going to Malaysia, particularly in Serawak and Sabah, and be at risk of kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf group.

Romi said he had ordered officers at international ferry ports connecting Batam and Malaysia to enforce tighter controls on travelers from Indonesia on Sunday.

“The measure has been taken to, among other things, anticipate further kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf group. We have to increase our vigilance,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Last week, six members from the Abu Sayyaf militant group abducted five Indonesian fishermen from their trawler in Sabah’s easternmost waters off Lahad Datu, about 10 minutes from the Tawi-Tawi islands in the southern Philippines.

 “The point is that we want everyone who leaves Indonesia to be equipped with all the necessary documents. We should check that before they depart. We are also worried they will be rejected by Malaysian immigration,” Romi added.

He said the 10 people that had been prevented from leaving the country on Sunday had failed to properly answer when the officers asked them questions such as where they worked, with whom they were traveling and how long they had been on leave from work.

Batam is located near the state border with Johor Bahru, Malaysia. It takes between 2 and 2.5 hours by ferry to reach Stulang Laut or Pasir Gudang, Johor, from the island.

The border has seen many migrant workers, including ones without proper documentation, commute between Indonesia and Malaysia. A loophole in the supervision efforts was reportedly being abused by the illegal workers to cross the border without presenting certain documents.

They are believed to pretend to be tourists and misuse their social visit pass, which lasts 30 days and is given at the Malaysian point of entry, to work. This practice, reportedly, has been widely recognized among immigration officers in both Indonesia and Malaysia.

Former Indonesian illegal migrant worker Harry Permana told the Post his story in 2016 when he and 20 other people were recruited to work in Serawak without legitimate paperwork.

“We were blue-collar workers who were given the task of building a fertilizer factory in Miri [a city in Serawak]. Some of us worked in a fish market, a shipyard and a number of factories,” he said.

Harry said he earned Rp 6 million (US$439) per month but lost RM120 (about Rp 400,000 or US$29) every time he had to renew his social visit pass. The money was to pay an “agent” who took care of the passports and had access to immigration offices in Indonesia and Malaysia to extend their stay.

“All we needed to do was hand over our passports to the agent. They would take our passports across the border, giving the impression that we had returned to Indonesia and gone back again to Malaysia, while in fact we never left Malaysia at all,” he explained.

Indonesian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahendra Siregar said on Monday that the government would work swiftly to take the necessary steps to handle the kidnappings and ensure the hostages’ safety.

The Abu Sayyaf group, a loose association of militants who kidnap for ransom and operate out of the southern islands of the Philippines, began targeting Indonesian sailors in 2016. As many as 29 had been abducted before last week’s incident. The government has denied claims it has paid the ransom.

The string of Abu Sayyaf abductions has prompted Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to form a trilateral cooperation initiative that includes coordinated maritime patrols and other cross-border arrangements. (vla)