SINGAPORE: Since March last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has helped more than 250 Singapore residents enter Malaysia due to essential and compassionate reasons.
But the majority of appeals were unsuccessful, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 2).
He was responding to a question from MP Sylvia Lim (WP-Aljunied) on how the Government is working with Malaysian authorities to help Singapore citizens and permanent residents (PRs) enter Malaysia for reasons such as family bereavement.
Borders between the two countries have been closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Ms Lim said in a supplementary question that some of her residents’ appeals to cross the Causeway were in vain despite assistance from MFA, as there was no response from the Malaysian government.
She asked if MFA could take a more objective approach in selecting who can go to Malaysia so it is not a “hit and miss” situation.
In response, Dr Balakrishnan said the final decision lies with the Malaysian authorities.
“I am not in a position to say on what basis he (Malaysia's director-general of immigration) agreed to some of our requests and disagreed with many of the other requests,” he said.
In each case, MFA will inform the Singaporean or PR to get approval from Malaysia’s director-general of immigration. At the same time, he or she can keep MFA informed so that the ministry can reach out informally to the Malaysian High Commission, Dr Balakrishnan said.
“But the legal and diplomatic position is that the ultimate discretion … rests with the director-general of immigration of Malaysia,” he said.
However, he said Singapore has reached an in-principle agreement with Malaysia to allow travel in circumstances such as family bereavements. “The exact details are still being worked out,” Dr Balakrishnan said without elaborating.
Ms Lim also asked in a second supplementary question how MFA plans to deal with bilateral issues given the “dynamic political situation” and state of emergency in Malaysia.
Dr Balakrishnan said that despite Malaysia’s change of government last year, the two countries still have good relations.
There were times he personally reached out to his counterpart, Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, to help Singaporeans who were stuck in a “particularly delicate situation” and Mr Hishammuddin obliged, Dr Balakrishnan said.
He also said MFA helped repatriate more than 350 Singaporeans - mostly the elderly, very young or people with mobility issues - stranded in Malaysia since March last year.