SINGAPORE – In a disconcerting turn of events, several Singapore permanent residents (PRs) from Myanmar find themselves in a state of uncertainty as their passports have been invalidated by the military junta in their home country.
The ramifications of this action are not only causing distress among the affected individuals but are also raising concerns about the far-reaching implications for the broader Myanmar community in Singapore.
Madam May Kyaw, a 50-year-old Myanmar national and Singapore PR, recently shared her ordeal when attempting to travel to Bangkok in August. At Changi Airport, immigration officers informed her that her passport, renewed in December 2022, was deemed invalid.
Despite its expected validity until 2027, she was barred from travelling. Madam May suspects that her support for the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, may have made her a target for the military junta.
The political backdrop to these passport cancellations stems from the military coup that unfolded in Myanmar in February 2021. The military, disputing the results of the November 2020 general election, declared a state of emergency and detained NLD leaders, including Ms Suu Kyi.
The ongoing political turmoil has had far-reaching consequences, now extending to the passports of Myanmar citizens residing abroad.
On 30 November, a spokesman from Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) revealed that Myanmar embassies controlled by the military junta were actively targeting citizens living abroad based on their political views.
This information came to light as the Myanmar Embassy in Singapore invalidated the passports of three Myanmar citizens, including Madam May Kyaw. The spokesman stated, “Their actions include denying passport extensions or revoking and invalidating passports without offering prior notifications or valid justifications.”
Madam May recounted another case of a Singapore PR facing a similar predicament. The individual, returning from a work trip in Vietnam, discovered his passport’s invalidity upon attempting to re-enter Singapore.
Expressing her concern, Madam May emphasized the fear and worry within the Myanmar community in Singapore, with many anxious that they may be subjected to similar actions by the military junta.
Responding to the crisis, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) issued a joint statement to reassure affected individuals.
They clarified that the invalidation of travel documents does not impact the continued residence or employment of Singapore PRs and long-term pass holders in the country. Long-term pass holders, including work pass holders, can stay in Singapore as long as their permits remain valid.
The statement also outlined the possibility for foreigners without valid passports to leave Singapore. It stated, “Foreigners who wish to leave Singapore but do not have a valid travel document will be allowed to depart if the receiving country permits their entry.”
Estimates suggest that the Myanmar community in Singapore comprises at least 200,000 individuals, encompassing students, healthcare workers, foreign domestic workers, and skilled professionals.
Recent reports from Radio Free Asia even suggest a higher figure of 300,000. Amid the uncertainty, the community is looking for support from international entities.
Mr David Bensadon, who operates the We Are Caring maid agency, expressed solidarity with Myanmar nationals in Singapore. While unaware of reports of passport cancellations among his helpers, he assured that the agency would continue providing jobs to Myanmar candidates.
In the event of passport cancellations, he suggested visiting the embassy together with the affected individuals to seek clarification.
The NUG spokesman highlighted their efforts to gain international recognition to address the challenges faced by Myanmar citizens abroad. Through appeals to host governments, the NUG seeks humanitarian consideration in handling passport issues.
The spokesman urged governments to issue special visas for Myanmar citizens and provide temporary stay until democratic powers are restored in Myanmar.
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