No Longer a Safe Haven: Why Bali wants to end visa-on-arrival for Russians and Ukrainians
Officials say incidents of foreigners misbehaving, overstaying and illegally working on their tourist visas as hairdressers, tour guides and taxi drivers are on the rise. But some Ukrainians are objecting to being lumped in with Russians
Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, thousands have sought refuge in Bali.
But now officials in the tropical getaway have called for revoking Indonesia’s visa-on-arrival policy for Russian and Ukrainian citizens.
Let’s take a closer look:
Russians flock to Indonesia
Indonesia allows nationals of 80 countries including Russia and Ukraine to apply for a visa upon landing in the country, while others have to apply before departure.
According to tourism data, Russians have flocked to Indonesia – its nationals are among the biggest groups of foreign arrivals.
Between September 2022 and January 2023, more than 77,500 Russians arrived in the Southeast Asian country as COVID-19 restrictions were eased.
That, compared to around 88,000 in the same period just before the pandemic.
In that same period between September 2022 and January 2023 around 8,800 Ukrainian visitors arrived in Indonesia.
Famed for its beaches, temples, waterfalls, and nightlife, Bali drew 6.2 million foreign visitors in 2019.
According to Al Jazeera, in 2022 around 60,000 Russians flocked to Bali.
But since September, after the Kremlin declared a partial mobilization of military reservists, that number is around 20,000 per month.
What’s the problem?
Bali Governor I Wayan Koster last week said has asked the Ministry of Law and Human Rights to tighten visa requirements by cancelling the visa-on-arrival facility specifically for Russian and Ukrainian citizens due to a series of violations.
“Because they are at war, so they flocked to Bali, including those who sought comfort or came to work here,” he said, according to a post on the immigration agency’s Instagram account. He added these two countries were singled out because their citizens’ infractions were more “significant” than those of others.
He did not provide details on the violations.
But officials say incidents of foreigners misbehaving are on the rise.
Indonesians have lately taken to social media to complain about some Russian tourists’ actions in Bali, including a model who posed nude at a sacred tree and a man who allegedly hit a pedestrian while driving under the influence of alcohol.
“Whenever we get reports about a foreigner behaving badly, it’s almost always Russian,” a police officer in Kuta told CNN.
“Foreigners come to Bali but they behave like they are above the law. This has always been the case and it has to finally stop,” he said.
Then there are issues such as overstaying and illegally working on their tourist visas as hairdressers, tour guides and taxi drivers, as per CNN.
In March, at least four Russian citizens were deported for visa violations. Immigration authorities have repeatedly warned foreigners in Bali against working on tourist visas.
But some Ukrainians are objecting to being lumped together with Russians.
A man identifying himself as Dmytro told CNN Bali is a good place.
“Ukrainians respect Balinese law and culture. We do a lot for our local communities and don’t represent any risk for people in Bali. Many back in Ukraine have questions about Bali and would also love to come.”
“It’s very sad that Ukrainians are being put in the same (category) as Russians. Russians are the second largest tourist group in Bali and if you read the news, you’ll see how often it is Russians breaking local laws and disrespecting Balinese culture and traditions,” Dmytro added.
“So why do Ukrainians have to suffer when it isn’t us causing problems in Bali?”
“Ukrainians do not come for holiday to Bali at this current moment as our country is being invaded. The Ukrainians coming to Bali now are for family unification (reasons) and are mostly female,” Ukrainian consulate spokesperson Nyoman Astama told CNN.
“We reaffirm that Ukrainians in Bali do not want to violate the rules and regulations,” Astama added. “It is imperative to enforce the law and implement the consequences for any breach of the law as voiced now by the people in Bali.”
But the locals seem at the end of their tether.
They claim that foreigners are taking jobs from locals.
Zee Putro, co-owner of Outdoor Activities, a tour company specialising in mountaineering, told Al Jazeera he hoped authorities would take strict action against those breaking the law.
“First, they contact me asking to ‘collaborate’, which means they want to introduce new guests for commission. They want us to work for them in the field,” he said.
“But they’re in the field, too. The last time I hiked to the top of Mount Agung volcano, I saw many Russians guiding other Russians without local guides even though local guides are required by law. The Russians seem to know everything about the mountain. I think they scaled the mountain before with local guides and remembered all the routes, safety issues, wind factors, timing and dangers. It’s sad because many local guides have no work.”
Surfing instructor Juda Purba agreed.
“It’s common for foreigners to work on the beach without permits. When we ask them if they’re working, they claim that they’re with a friend, so the surfing lesson is free. But we know they’re making money out of it,” Purba told Al Jazeera. “It’s unfair because they don’t pay taxes. Authorities need to take care of this.”
‘Changes must be carefully reviewed’
Indonesia’s Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno last week said, “the number of tourists from Russia and Ukraine who have…caused problems is not yet significant”. He added he would discuss the issue with stakeholders and that any plans to change visa rules must be “carefully reviewed”.
A spokesperson for Indonesia’s immigration agency, which is under the law ministry, declined to comment, while the embassies of Russia and Ukraine in Jakarta did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
With inputs from agencies
Read all the Latest News, Trending News, Cricket News, Bollywood News, India News and Entertainment News here. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko hospitalised after meeting Vladimir Putin: Report
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was taken to a hospital in Moscow after meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, according to a report citing the Belarusian opposition leader
EU's Russia sanction talks hit roadblock over Kyiv’s 'war sponsors' list
Negotiations over the EU’s 11th package of sanctions on Russia have stalled due to opposition from Greece and Hungary, which want their companies removed from a list of 'war sponsors' compiled by Kyiv, according to a report
NATO struggles in the shadows to find new leader
Whoever takes the reins will do so at a critical time, facing the twin challenges of keeping allies together in supporting Ukraine while guarding against any escalation that would draw NATO directly into a war with Russia