President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono changed his tune about a plea from an Indonesian woman married to a Chilean man when his foreign minister told him the government received many similar complaints from mixed couples having difficulty living in Indonesia because of the country's citizenship law.
The issue came up during a discussion between the President and the tiny Indonesian community in Santiago. Shanti Alvarez told Susilo how the law in Indonesia made it virtually impossible for her, her husband and their six-month-old son to live and work in Indonesia.
"Every country has a law regarding this and as a good citizen you have to follow the law," the President initially said.
But Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda, who was asked by the President to explain the current citizenship law, said the issue of mixed couples being unable to live and work in Indonesia had become a common problem.
In the absence of any specific initiative, all the government can do is take complaints at this stage, he said.
The President, in Santiago for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, then interjected: "Laws are man-made. And they were made in response to particular circumstances. They can be changed when the circumstances change."
"Let's put this on the agenda. Let's review the law," he said, adding: "This is for humanitarian and compassionate reasons."
The President said he was not a person to make promises. "But God willing, we hope the new law addresses your concern."
Indonesian law makes it very difficult for foreigners to receive citizenship. And while many foreigners married to Indonesians do not intend to take Indonesian citizenship, they still have to wade through mountains of red tape to obtain permanent residence in the country.
The situation is even more difficult for Indonesian women married to foreign men because Law No. 62/1958 on citizenship says a child automatically receives the father's citizenship and can only receive Indonesian citizenship upon turning 18.
An Indonesian woman who is married to a foreigner will lose her citizenship if she fails to declare her intention to keep her Indonesian citizenship within one year of her marriage.
Shanti, who is originally from Bandung, said she and her husband Eduardo Alvarez Ormazabal tried to settle in Indonesia, but gave up the effort after having to spend huge sums of money because he had to go to Singapore to renew his visa every six months.
"We are not rich. We can only offer our labor and our education to Indonesia," said Shanti, who currently works as a financial analyst.
Her husband is trained in tourism and hotel management.
"At the very least, they should make the law as equal for foreign husbands as it is for foreign wives," she said.
"We want to raise our son like a good Muslim and we think Indonesia is a better place," she said pointing to six-month-old Yusuf As-Siddiq. -- JP/Endy M. Bayuni
source: The Jakarta Post