Immigration bureau on lookout for 1,200 Indonesians
THE BUREAU of Immigration (BI) said on Tuesday it was on the lookout for some 1,200 Indonesians who may be among the 6,700 Filipino Muslim pilgrims returning from Mecca after joining the hajj.
The agency said it would be confiscating the hajj passports of all Muslim pilgrims to identify the fake ones.
Immigration personnel at the airport would be screening the arriving pilgrims and cross matching their confiscated passports with existing immigration records, BI deputy commissioner Al Argosino said.
“We are doing cross matching of data to determine who are the nationals holding Philippine hajj passports. We are putting them in a holding room. We are not treating them as criminals but as part of our system to identify the Indonesian victims of this scam,” he told a press briefing.
The official also asked for patience from Muslim pilgrims who would be affected by the screening process at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).
“I ask for your patience. As of this moment, we can’t determine who are the Indonesians unless we determine who the regular passport holders are,” Argosino said.
The BI intercepted last month 177 Indonesians who posed as Filipinos with hajj passports who were en route to join the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Most of them however were later sent home as they were considered victims, though nine remained behind to help in the probe of an interagency task force hunting down the syndicate behind the scam.
Five Filipinos who acted as the foreigners’ escorts have been jailed and are facing syndicated estafa charges.
The BI has set up four special counters at the Naia for arriving Muslim pilgrims, who would be screened to find out if they were foreign nationals holding Philippine hajj passports.
A hajj passport is different from a regular passport as it is only issued for purposes of joining the pilgrimage. It has a validity of only one year and is issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The BI is expecting around 6,700 Muslim pilgrims to return to the country until Oct. 1, of whom 1,200 are suspected to be Indonesians.
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