Forty Shipwreck Survivors Denied Entry into Singapore
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Forty Shipwreck Survivors Denied Entry into Singapore


A few weeks back another silly international survey was produced. This one told the world that Singapore was the planet’s most emotionless society, beating 150 countries in taking the unwanted spot.

It was easy fodder for journalists who seized on an equally easy headline which played on regional stereotypes, but as a writer who makes a living out of such subjects this was too obvious, unfair and would make too many of my friends and colleagues in Singapore squirm.

Singaporeans, for good reason, hate these kinds of stories and would rather be portrayed in a much nicer light — a gentler and kinder people as opposed to the sanitized product of a nanny state. Then forty shipwreck survivors from Burma, who had apparently spent thirty hours in the water, were picked up by a Vietnamese vessel and taken to Singapore, where they were refused entry.

Instead of gaining access to land, they were left stranded on board the Nosco Victory and requests to allow them to leave the boat were denied even after Vivian Tan from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the Burmese, likely Muslim Rohingyas, had to urgently disembark. Singapore isn't a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees.

Still, the keywords in there are obviously Muslim Rohingyas.

Southeast Asian countries dread an influx of Burmese Muslims fleeing their country as violence in the north persists amid an in-country propaganda campaign designed to convince a nation that Rohngyas are in fact not Burmese and hold no rights to live there.

Eventually Malaysia, which has a much more generous history in helping refugees, answered the call and took these forty likely Muslim Rohingyas in. There are obvious religious affiliations between Islamic Malaysia and the Rohingyas, but so what? Singapore also has a Muslim population and the idea that forty shipwreck victims should be quietly ignored amid hopes they would go elsewhere was, quite frankly, emotionless.

Their plight won comparisons with the Tampa, a Norwegian ship which rescued 438 people, mainly Hazaras from Afghanistan, after responding to a distress call in 2001 and took them to Australia where they were refused entry by a conservative government led by Prime Minister John Howard.

It was an embarrassing episode for Australia although most of the refugees were eventually settled in Australia and New Zealand.

The presumed Muslims from Burma nearly drowned and were ferried on a boat from Vietnam to Singapore. All three countries involved are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has a dubious history of ignoring the internal affairs of neighboring ASEAN states while preaching a mantra known as the "ASEAN Way."

That ASEAN Way is supposed to deliver on an Integrated Economic Community by 2015 modeled on the European Union — yet when it comes to a hapless bunch of shipwreck survivors ASEAN again proved itself to be ineffectual. Singapore did have its way, with about as much emotion as a damp squid.

January 7, 2013 at 01:26

You rule with your mind, not with your heart. Emotions are for the weaklings. Singapore doesn't need extra people to fuel their economy. Bravo! Singapore immigration (the most uncorrupt in SEA) for a job well done!

January 5, 2013 at 20:42

Singapore is a small country without natural resources, land and housing are scare and in high demand. If our government allow them in, it will set a trend for others to try their luck. without proper qualifications and skills they will be exploited by unscrupulous employers. I am of the opinion, our country is only humane to people who can build their own life by themselves if they qualified to settle down in our country

lenny r
January 1, 2013 at 06:31

Did you read the whole text or you don't understand English? What I can see is that you're a racist, xenophobe and anti Muslim.

Hakuna matata
January 1, 2013 at 06:25

Those Vietnamese were the Vietcongs trying to sell arms to the Malaysian communists. It was for national security that these boat people were not allowed entry. And Singapore is not racist? Please don't spin.

Leonard R.
December 25, 2012 at 09:31

Indonesia and Malaysia have disgraced themselves here. In fact, the Islamic world has disgraced itself by not offering their fellow Muslims people shelter here. 

December 24, 2012 at 05:28

I don't know about emotions in Singapore, but it's al about materialism and money in that "mercantile" British Commonwealth(sic) Singapore. The Burmese upper-class including the top ex-generals and business tycoons like Steven Lo (son of Lo Hsing-Han, see:, Tay Za, Zaw Zaw etc. are allowed to launder their dirty money there BUT Muslim Rohingyas? C'mon! These "poor, dark and dirty people" don't fit the squeaky clean image of Singapore, where the Lion (Singha) is white as in the picture  LOL

Swamp Rat
December 24, 2012 at 01:20

The vessel sank in Burmese waters. Why weren't the survivors dropped off in a Malaysian port since the vessel would have passed several on the way to Singapore? Just curious; I don't know much about how refugee status works. If the vessel had gone from the rescue site directly to, let's say, Shanghai, would the Chinese government be obligated to offer them entry? How far from the rescue site can you take survivors and have a country be obligated to provide entry?

December 22, 2012 at 05:52

These muslims, a source of conflict in their country of origin
are denied entry as refugees into Singapore or Australia
where they can became a source for islamic conflict in these countries.
Where have muslim asylum seekers been anything but nightmare for host countries?

Umtata Zulu
December 21, 2012 at 12:08

Malaysia accepting the refugees is all about them being Muslims: there is a chronic, massive, demographic struggle going on in that country for Muslim dominance, and I suppose every little bit helps. The Malaysian government was not so accomodation of the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s (who were almost entirely non-Muslim, and even worse – from the government's point of view – Chinese to boot). Malaysian acts of charity in so far as accepting refugees is all about a 'racist' demographic struggle for Muslim dominance.

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