Jun 07

racial_profiling In spite of the recent Immigration Experience at Denpasar Airport by 2 female travelers from the Philippines, I was wondering, what your opinion might be about Racial Profiling at airports.

Currently a story is making waves on Blogs and Facebook, how 2 Filipina were allegedly obtained, held and questioned for 1.5 hours upon immigration without initial suspicion, or justification – obviously simply because they were traveling to Bali being Citizens of the Republic of the Philippines.

The debate, if their treatment was justified, is heated and sparked plenty of controversy so far. Here is what happened:

An unpleasant Immigration Experience

The 2 girls were set to enjoy a holiday in Bali, Indonesia’s prime tourist destination. In the immigration line they were singled out, when showing their Philippine passports and taken to an interrogation room.

Visa on Arrival Counter, Courtesy of bali-discovery.comTheir luggage and bodies were thoroughly examined and searched for drugs, they were questioned and in their view treated in a ‘rude and unfair’ manner. Immigration officers are said to have made provoking, intimidating or even degrading comments.

The 2 girls claimed to have suffered a traumatic experience and their website is full of comforting comments and also hateful remarks towards Indonesian Immigration and its officers.

The Philippines media picked up the story as well and even the embassy is pondering to file a complaint with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta.

Just remember, both nations are ASEAN countries, the organization which aims to accelerate social progress and cultural development besides the simplification and harmonization of laws and regulations for travel, transport and economics between its members – similar to the European Union.

Why are Filipinos targeted?

Bali has a long story of drug smuggling and trafficking. Everyone knows the Shapelle Corby case and Bali’s famed Kerobokan prison is filled with plenty of Caucasian and African inmates who tried smuggling drugs and narcotics into the ‘Island of the Gods’.

Recently, drug smuggling rings seem to target more and more Philippine nationals, as they are free to move and travel within the ASEAN countries, can communicate well in the English language and seem to be prone to exploitation, due to the poverty in the country.

There are many cases in the last couple of months in China, where Philippine nationals face the death penalty due to drug trafficking and also Indonesia saw its fair share of Pinoy drug mules lately.

Is Racial Profiling an Indonesian Invention?

Cat Stevens Yusuf Islam and Racial Profiling Racial Profiling is certainly not an Indonesian invention.

In Israel it’s been done for ages, just nobody talks about it. It goes so far, that it’s difficult or even impossible to immigrate into Israel, if you have a passport from certain Arabic countries or even only passport stamps from suspected hostile countries to Israel.

Vice-versa you won’t find many Israeli travelers in Indonesia or other bigger Muslims countries for that matter.

In the US, Arabic travelers face tougher scrutiny also, as famous 70’s British singer and songwriter Cat Stevens, a converted Muslim who changed his name to Yusuf Islam had to find out in 2004, when he was denied entry into the US.

In European countries it happens also, it’s sometimes just not that obvious or done in more subtle ways.


You might ask, what’s all the fuss about? Weren’t the immigration officers simply doing their job? Isn’t it normal to be searched and questioned at airports these days? Maybe it was just the first overseas trip for those 2 ladies and they weren’t aware of how things changed in international compared to domestic travel?

Personally, I have mixed feelings about the increasing difficulties, travelers face in the post-911 world. We all want safety and security on our travels. But to what extend we want to face the repercussions brought up on us by governments deemed necessary, to get there?

Full Body Airport Scanners When I was traveling to Australia a few years back, my (German) companion was also held and questioned for about 1-2 hours, simply because he changed his arrival/visa date on short notice compared to the initial plan. It was certainly a very unpleasant additional hassle for him, coming all the way down from Germany on a day-long flight.

I also witnessed a few years back an incident, when a girl from the Philippines was held for hours and put back on the next plane return at Singapore Changi airport, when she couldn’t produce the address of the relative she wanted to visit in the city state. The relative, who was waiting in the arrival hall didn’t even have a chance to see or talk with her before her forced departure.

While I see the necessity for keeping unwanted and criminal elements out of the country, things seem to get a little out of hand recently.

It starts with the tiny amounts of Liquids, Aerosols or Perfumes/Alcohol that are only allowed and doesn’t stop with Full-Body (‘naked’) Scanners, which are increasingly called for and installed at Western Airports.

But isn’t it justified, if it makes Air Travel more safe for the majority? What do you think?

Surely Bali would have the funds to install similar Scanners, to make the immigration process a more pleasant and less intimidating one. But where does it all end?

Please leave your comments after the break or Vote in the new Poll in the left sidebar! ;-)

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written by Chris

8 Responses to “Racial Profiling at Bali Airport – Necessity or Harassment?”

  1. Money MakerNo Gravatar ISRAEL Says:

    As a foreigner living in Israel, the 1-2 hour detention doesn’t seem like a big deal. Whenever I fly I need to submit details about everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve done and everybody I’ve talked to since coming to Israel, as well as answer questions about what I will be doing where I’m flying to. And that is all about one week before even showing up at the airport. Of course Jewish Israelis have it a lot easier, but Arab Israelis have it a lot harder. I understand why it’s needed and accept it as one if the hassles of being a foreigner. Also the detentions for suspicion of drug trafficking is not that unusual for people traveling into US from Mexico, Colombia, and other trafficking sources.

    Your information about the Arab stamps is not correct – Israeli immigration does not care about them generally speaking (I’ve never been asked about them by immigration). However Israeli airport security may question you about them. On the other hand, most Arab countries are really hardcore about Israeli stamps (and most of them have wholesale ban on Israeli citizens entering). I have a colleague of Syrian birth but US citizen who travelled to Israel and didn’t have any issues, but got his passport stamped (for these cases the Israelis will stamp separate sheet but he forgot to ask). Before later traveling back to Syria he had no other choice but to destroy his passport because if Syria caught him with the Israel stamp, they would have put him in prison.

  2. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Thanks for the additions and corrections! Especially the stamp topic is a bit more clear for me now. ;-)

  3. dodong floresNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Chris, I have a short answer to your title question of this article.
    So as not to “harrass” or offend foreign visitors, any country should invest on high-tech equipment to detect drugs. Even drug-sniffing dogs are very effective. Personally, I don’t think racial profiling is a productive method. I see it as a way synonymous to racial discrimination…

  4. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Dodong, I agree, that modern equipment would probably help to avoid shady situations. Considering the fact, that the small island of Bali with 4 Mio people in a country of 250 Mio brings in 60-70% of the tourist revenues, the money should be there for that. Let’s see, what comes out of it. ;-)

  5. bethNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    I think this is really a racial profiling. When my friend and I visited Bali, Feb2011. I remember my bagpack was inspected after running through the scanners but his bagpack was not. So Indonesia do this only with Filipino women?

  6. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    beth, I think they have their list of nations and travelers that fit that bill and who are more likely to are suspicious based on past incidents. I have mixed feelings about it, but mainly agree with Dodong Flores above, that better equipment would avoid these kind of situation and would put everyone at ease. Hmmm! :-/

  7. Net GrumpNo Gravatar NETHERLANDS Says:

    I’m not surprised…pinoys are known drug mules and sexworkers around Asia.
    Ofcourse many philippinos have trouble to face that truth..
    When the US navy left Subic Bay thousands of sexworkers saw their business vanish. As the 7th fleet frequently visited Singapore instead the authorities overthere gave workpermits to philippina sexworkers to prevent problems with local women.
    Good clubs like the Top Ten on Orchard Road transformed into meeting places for sailors and pinoys.
    A lot of people who live or visit Ubud know the japanese owned Ozeki bar opposite to the Neka Museum. I went to the opening in 2006 with a Japanese woman. After an hour she told me that we should leave. She had been chatting with other Japanese expats and told me later that the place is financed by the (Osaka) Yakuza. Also that they planned a few relax rooms with phillipinas on the first floor for tired businessmen from Korea, Taiwan etc. who couldn’t get a happy ending with local masseuses.
    I don’t think the profiling should be called racial as most people on the Phillippines have the same Melanesian background as the Indonesians.

    Nevertheless is profiling a necessity no matter where people come from.

  8. NoelNo Gravatar AUSTRALIA Says:

    I beg to disagree with such generalisations. With that kind of thinking, any European or other Western middle-aged guy should be under extra scrutiny given that they fit the most common profile for those involved in paedophile rings around the world.

    Profiling–whether you agree with it or not—should never be about amateur stereotyping.

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