Burmese citizens hold press conference on being denied visa renewals in Singapore
Written by Ng E-Jay
22 Aug 2008
Some Burmese residents held a press conference on 22 Aug at Peninsula Excelsior Hotel from 3pm to 5pm in a bid at publicizing the plight of 6 of their compatriots who have had the renewal applications for their PR re-entry permits, employment passes, work permits, or social visit passes turned down.
Mr Myo Myint Maung Marc, who is a 3rd year Business Student at SMU and a member of the Overseas Burmese Patriots, chaired the press conference. Also on the panel was Ms Ngwe Zin Soe, a 31 year old Singapore PR and an Assistant Engineer at a private company, and Mr Thu Yein Win, a 33 year old ‘S’ pass holder.
Mr Myo Myint Maung Marc kicked off the press conference by reading out the press statement from the group which explained that since July 2008, 6 Burmese residents in Singapore have been denied renewals of their PR re-entry permits, employment passes, work permits, or social visit passes by the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Three of them have had to leave Singapore as a result, and they are temporarily in asylum in countries like Cambodia and Thailand.
All 6 Burmese residents involved are activists who have participated in campaigns for political change in Burma. Some of their notable activities include the peaceful protest against the Burmese Junta’s murderous crackdown on monks and innocent civilians held near Orchard Road on 20 Nov 2007 during the ASEAN Summit, and the “Vote NO” campaign against the sham referendum on the new military-drafted Constitution for Burma during late April and early May 2008. These activities were effective in raising awareness of the injustices and atrocities committed by the Burmese Junta, and they were all conducted in a peaceful and lawful manner.
Since then, approximately 50 Burmese who participated in these peaceful campaigns have been called up for police investigations, but no charge has been tendered against any of them. These include the 6 Burmese affected by the non-renewal of their visas or work passes. Each of the 6 have been served stern warnings from the police not to participate in protests or other activities that the authorities deem unlawful.
However, the police warnings were not the end of their problems in Singapore, as they recently found themselves having their work, studies, and residency in Singapore put in jeopardy by the ICA and MOM.
Ms Ngwe Zin Soe, for example, went to the ICA on 21 July 2008 to apply for the extension of her PR re-entry permit. According to the ICA, a PR who wishes to leave Singapore must have a valid re-entry permit; a PR who remains outside Singapore without a valid re-entry permit will lose his/her PR status. Ms Ngwe Zin Soe was told that her re-entry permit could not be extended immediately, and no reason was given for this. To this date, she has yet to be contacted by the ICA regarding her application.
Mr Hlaing Moe, a Technical Supervisor, had his application for renewal of his ‘S’ pass rejected on 17 July 2008 by the MOM. No reason was given. His appeal was also rejected on 25 July 2008 by MOM, again, without any reason given.
After the cancellation of his ‘S’ pass, Mr Hlaing Moe received a Social Visit pass from the ICA to stay in Singapore until 5 Aug 2008. But his examinations for his part-time course for a Diploma in Technology (Mechanical) at Ngee Ann Polytechnique are scheduled for 14 Aug 2008 to 24 Aug 2008. Despite this, the ICA refused to extend his Social Visit pass, and yet again, no reason was given for this rejection despite Mr Hlaing Moe having a perfect legitimate need to stay in Singapore. Mr Hlaing Moe left Singapore for Malaysia on 5 Aug 2008. During his stay in Malaysia, he applied for a Singapore visa in order to take his exams. But it was approved only on 20 Aug 2008, by which time it was too late.
Amongst the 6 Burmese residents affected, there were two who did not wish to have their profiles put up in the press statement due to personal reasons.
Mr Myo Myint Maung Marc explained during the press conference that this was the first time Burmese residents in Singapore have faced difficulties in renewing their PR re-entry permits and work passes. It was only after their involvement in peaceful campaigns against the Burmese Junta and subsequent interrogation and warnings by the police that these problems arose.
Mr Thu Yein Win, who was one of the panelists at the press conference, had an interesting story to tell with regards to authorities trying to intimidate activists such as himself. During his application to become a PR on 6 June 2008 at the ICA, two immigration officers questioned him at great length on the activists involved with the Overseas Burmese Patriots. They wanted to know who was the leader of the Overseas Burmese Patriots as well as details of its committee members. They also asked Mr Thu Yein Win to report to them if he planned to participate in any future political activities, and that his application would be considered favourably if he showed cooperation.
To this date, Mr Thu Yein Win has received no response from ICA regarding his PR application.
The Burmese affected wish to know the underlying reasons for the non-renewals of their re-entry permits and work passes from ICA and MOM. According to Marc, they are not here to seek special favours, but merely wish to be treated fairly. The group has decided to seek legal advice on this matter.
Marc also mentioned during the question-and-answer session that as far as he knew, no other Burmese patriots in other countries have faced such problems from the respective governments, despite their involvement in peaceful campaigns as well. For instance, his friends in Indonesia have not faced such difficulties despite their participation in peaceful demonstrations and other such activities.
When asked if the Burmese regretted their actions, Marc replied on behalf of those affected that if they ever regretted what they did, they would be sitting quietly at home repenting rather than going public with their difficulties.
Marc added that the Burmese community in Singapore, which number around 100,000, are not only involved in human rights work, but have also participated very actively in humanitarian activities, for example, helping out and donating to the victims of the cyclone disaster in Burma in early May 2008.
By going public with their difficulties, the Burmese patriots want to know if they are being castigated for their peaceful political activism, and why they are being treated unfairly despite the Singapore Government officially declaring its support for peaceful political change in Burma.