MANADO - Thirty Chinese citizens have been found working illegally in an iron ore mine in North Minahasa regency but they refused to return home.
Indonesian authorities are caught in a tight corner as illegal Chinese workers continue to be a problem, despite deepening bilateral ties between the two countries.
While the dust has yet to settle from a recent case involving five Chinese workers trespassing into Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in Jakarta, it has been uncovered that another 30 have been working illegally at an iron ore mine in Bangka Island, North Minahasa regency, but have refused to return home.
The workers went into hiding as local immigration officials came searching for them.
"Dozens of the foreign workers have played hide and seek with immigration officials who came looking for them. They hid in residents' houses or distant villages," said Imanuel Tinungkimengaku, the head of Kahuku, one of the villages on the island.
Bangka is a small island perched just off the northern tip of Sulawesi, neighbouring a marine park that is home to two diving paradises, Bunaken and Lembeh.
The Supreme Court and the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN Jakarta) revoked the mining operation license of PT Mikgro Metal Perdana (MMP) for the area last year after it was proven that the license breached law.
Residents and environmental activists have strongly protested the mining operation, which started in 2008, for the significant environmental damage it had caused.
Meanwhile, the five Chinese nationals who had been caught illegally working on a high-speed railway project, a Chinese investment, at Halim are currently undergoing due process.
On Friday, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly met his Chinese counterpart Wu Aiying to discuss the airport incident.
Yasonna said the Chinese Justice Ministry would let Indonesian law enforcement probe the case further that took place in April, as well as asked Indonesian authorities to uphold the rights of the five Chinese nationals during legal processing.
"The two parties have acknowledged that this is a high-profile case because it took place at a sensitive location. The Chinese minister, nevertheless, has said it was the authority of Indonesian law enforcement to investigate the case," Yasonna told reporters Friday after a bilateral meeting between the Law and Human Rights Ministry and the Chinese Justice Ministry at the former's office in Kuningan, South Jakarta.
The Indonesian ministry's directorate general for immigration, Ronny Sompie, said it was Wu's right as a justice minister to seek protection for its citizens abroad.
"It is just the same as what our government does whenever our migrant workers have legal problems in foreign country," Ronnie said.
The five Chinese nationals, identified as GLZ, 27; WJ, 29; ZH, 48; CQ, 49; and XW, 41, were caught illegally drilling at Halim Perdanakusuma Airport, which also incorporates an Air Force base. Currently, they are being detained in the Cipinang detention centre in Jakarta, pending further investigation.
The ministry has previously said it centred its investigation into XW, who allegedly lacked the proper documentation to work in Indonesia, as he only held a visa that did not allow for employment, instead of the necessary Temporary Stay Permit (KITAS). The four other detained did carry KITAS cards.
"The ministry want to conclude the investigation immediately, so that we can submit the case dossier to the prosecutor's office for further processing," Yasonna said.