This article was originally published by South China Morning Post.
Indonesian, Malaysian and Philippine visa policies leave these countries vulnerable to terrorists attempting to return with false documentation. Malaysia does not require visas for travelers from Syria, Iraq and Turkey, while the Philippines does not require visas for travelers from Turkey. Indonesia grants visas upon arrival.
Southeast Asian countries face significant challenges in preventing the entry and movement of militants. Malaysia has implemented a special security zone in eastern Sabah. Joint air and sea patrols in the Sulu Sea reduce but do not eliminate the risk of returnees exploiting smuggling routes. In Indonesia, security efforts have been repeatedly hampered by poor coordination between stakeholder agencies. And in the Philippines, Manila International Airport has historically implemented insufficient security practices.
To mitigate the threat posed by returnees, Southeast Asian countries have enacted a number of legal mechanisms, though glaring vulnerabilities remain. Indonesia introduced legislation in 2018 criminalising activity associated with travelling abroad as a foreign fighter, but its efficacy may be hampered by an overwhelmed judicial system. Malaysian law permits lengthy periods of detention for terrorism suspects and monitoring upon their release. Returning family members of fighters are also subject to monitoring. The Philippines has limited legal mechanisms. Terrorist attacks in the country have continued despite gains made since the 2017 siege of Marawi.