Fri, 09 Aug 2002

Indonesians may travel to KL without passport soon

Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

An immigration deal signed on Thursday between Indonesia and Malaysia promises passport-free for travel between the two countries, an Indonesian government official said.

The facility will be made possible with the help of an electronic system to be developed and possibly launched early next year.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was present in Indonesia's tourist island of Bali to witness his government's signing of a memorandum of understanding on the exchange of immigration information and improvement of the quality of human resources, said Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra in Bali.

Also witnessing the signing ceremony of the deal at the Tampak Siring Palace was President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Yusril said the two countries agreed to build an electronic immigration system that would connect each other's immigration checkpoints.

This way, Indonesians wishing to go to Malaysia or vice versa would no longer need to bring their passports, Yusril was quoted as saying by Antara news agency.

The minister said he expected that the electronic system would be up and running by January next year.

The deal could also be a prelude to plans to develop an all- Southeast Asian countries travel card, which would phase out the need for passports, he added.

At present, travelers with nationalities from one of the 10 countries under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) require no visas for travel within the region.

Thursday's deal comes as both countries are locked in a debate over the fate of thousands of illegal Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia.

Malaysia is deporting tens of thousands of illegal workers, threatening them with jail terms, caning and fines if they are caught without proper immigration and employment documents. Kuala Lumpur has complained that the hundreds of thousands of Indonesian illegal workers are the cause of security problems and a rise in the crime rate in Malaysia.

But for Jakarta, the mass return of the workers adds to logistical and unemployment problems in a country awash with refugees and where 40 percent of its 210 million population are jobless.

Indonesia has asked Malaysia to give another month for the Indonesian illegal workers to leave the country, but Malaysia apparently gave a cool response as it says it has already given a four-month grace period for the illegal workers to go home.