People should be treated NOT depending on their passport, BUT on who they really are
People should be treated NOT depending on their passport, BUT on who they really are
Dear Customs Officers,
I would like to share with you a story that has been posted on Singapore's RedWire Times but for some reasons has been removed:
"A Vietnamese lady who claims to have received top education in Singapore on a scholarship from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has lashed out at Singapore Customs for alleged discrimination.
Commenting on Facebook, Thuy Thanh Nguyen accused customs officials of profiling her, rudeness, and mistreatment.
She also alleged that special treatment was reserved for people like her from Vietnam.
This is her story:
“Before I tell you this story, I have to put a disclaimer here. I am not the typical kind of girl that would make you assume that she must be doing something bad to deserve this. I arrived in Singapore as a scholar 7 years ago – a Singapore Scholar under Ministry of Foreign Affairs – and attended one of the best schools here.
I worked here for 3 years until I was relocated back to HCM, to continue working for an international firm.
I travelled back and forth between HCM and Singapore pretty often, unfortunately, mostly 3-10 days for training or meetings. So yes, I might not be absolutely innocent. I could have potentially violated some immigration rules as a frequent traveller, who knows? Not that they told me anyway.
2:30 am – Still inside the ICA waiting room, which looks like a small little box in a developing world. It more or less comprised of 10 hard dirty chairs, yellowish painted wall, and a desktop that looks like the aviation industry itself – 20 years and unchanged. There were two rooms: one interview room and one small secondary checking or basically a finger scanning room.
I’m too used to this place. Every single time I fly into Singapore, the chance that I arrive here is 90%, thanks to various reasons: my Vietnamese passport, my common name (they have a code for it, 0101: common name type “A”, of which I can only guess – very common) and my suspicious profile: single young attractive female traveler from a developing country.
We all arrived here around 12:40 am. Slowly, the room is cleared one by one. It probably started with a total of 20 of us, then down to 10 after 1.5 hours, and down to about 5 after another hour.
Both exhausted and sleepy since it was already 3am, I found myself sitting on the floor and waiting. I took out my iPad and started playing some games just to pass time. The officer stormed out and started raising his voice.
I looked up and as my eyes met at the officer, Mr. Tan, he started screaming:
T: You can’t use this here!
Me: Sorry, I thought we cannot use our phones only (glancing towards the “do not use phone” sign).
T: What is that? Not a phone?
Me: Erhh, it’s an iPad. (I’m thinking to myself that the gadget is visibly big so that was just a plain silly question.)
T: Are you taking pictures?
Me: No, just playing games while waiting.
T: Do not lie to me. I will have all of your things searched, you know that.
Me: I am not lying. I am just playing games, killing time.
T: So do you want me to interview you or send you back?
Me: Of course I DO want you to interview me.
T: You want me to send you back right.
Me: Nope, I DOOOOOO want you to interview me. I have been waiting here for hours and you didn’t call my name, how can I know what to do?
At this point I was beyond annoyed. Yet, I also knew that my fate lies with this incompetent bloke, so I followed him into the interview room.
After 2 minutes of conversing, with not much information asked, he got out. And my nightmare began.
They immediately locked us inside the room and did not say anything. Most of the girls already know that they will be sent back. I was still not too sure. At the end of the day, I have provided them my boss’s name and if they bothered to check everything, they would have seen my whole record, which is squeaky clean.
But then another hour passed, and I know my fate has been decided. There was not much I can do, I guessed.
4:30 am – Since the room is cold, all the girls are snuggling next to each other on the floor at a corner trying to sleep. I had a vivid thought that at the time, I could not see a stark difference between us and a bunch of cockroaches. Another girl at the other corner kept buzzing the intercom asking if she can go to toilet, and no one answered. After 10 minutes of buzzing, an old lady came by- someone who would remind you of a typical old lady you see at most hawker places country wide.
Just that in this case, she is in uniform. Right away, she started scolding the poor girl in all kind of languages: “When other girls go you don’t want to go, why huh huh huh”. I was too tired to even respond, when normally I would defend that little poor girl.
4:45 am – They all stormed in and took us to another place ,the ICAO security office. In here, they took all of my stuff and put it into a locker. A lady officer did a whole body search on us and put all five of us in a room, which has 4 bunk beds, no air con, just a small fan. The bed was falling apart as I climbed on the top bunk; and mind you, I weigh 40 kg. And then she simply said “sleep”.
Sure, if we can …. I have been travelling back and forth from Singapore to HCM more than 100 times within the last 2 years (literally every week or so due to my job in consulting). I know the first Jetstar flight in the morning is at 7:10, which I thought might be what they would put us on, so in that case, it meant not that much sleep anyway.
I was right. They woke every one up at around 5:30 (at this point I don’t have anything with me- no phone, no laptop, so I can only estimate the time) and told us that we have to pay for our accommodation here as well as for the “escort” services.
- So for 2 hours of bunk bed, in a perfect location of Changi immigration office, with great transportation, facilities and beautiful scenery, we will each have to pay 104 SGD (they charged you by hour – 87 for 1 hour, and 104 for 2, and it can go up to 550++ for 48 hours). Amazing!
- The escort service was another 50 or 100 SGD, which I couldn’t even look anymore at that point. I was simply too tired.
As I was the only one who could speak English there, the lady told me to ask the rest to pay. I simply said “what if they can’t?” Just like that, she pulled out a few blurry photocopied version of a “declaration form” from the old wooden desk, which states that we currently do not have enough cash on hand to pay for the services, of which the airlines would be responsible for. Now I understand why airlines are so scared because the five of us have just costed them about 1000 ++ for no good reason. And even at that point, after 6 hours, we haven’t been offered any water or food. All the girls looks sleepless, pale and confused.
Each of us come to her, signed the form, and then they took everyone back to the room. “Sleep!”
And every time they call us, they will be like “Vietnam! Go!” – like it’s a name for all of us.
Of course, the whole escorting at the airport, back to the airplane (with our passports kept by the aircrew and then passed to an officer at the Vietnam side) and back to immigration, where they recorded all of our names and passport number, was not just humiliating, but essentially a strip down of your core human rights. You are just an animal – no identity, completely anonymous, gathered together, and being directed around.
During the whole experience, I felt sad, deeply for myself. But I was kind of glad for all the girls because they don’t understand the language, so they have no idea of all sorts of discriminatory acts being thrown around by those “officers”. But I understood it all. Those officers, at the end of the day, felt like they had some authority over these poor little girls that allowed them to raise their voice, to mock their victims, to threaten them. The mistreated do not even know what has been said, they can only squirm in confusion and fears.
So that’s my 12 hours of horror.
I didn’t write this as anything against Singapore or ICA. It’s an experience. And it’s not a good one. But I would like to record it, for my future kid to know, that yes, your mama has been through things like that in her life.
Thank you everyone for reading, sharing and sending regards. It all happened last night – this morning. I wrote this note right the moment I landed in Ho Chi Minh.
Took a nap and some food, I am better now
A few things I want to clarify (as some people asked)
- I only have to go to the ICA waiting room when I visit as a tourist/ business travel (between jobs or when I’m relocated back). When I travel with the job in Singapore, I went through the automation door.
- Can they tell I am different => why did they treat me that way? Oh well, when all my fancy gadgets are taken away and did not talk to anyone. I’m sure I do not look that much different from any normal girl.
- Why don’t you pay for those service fee, if you claimed your status as such, you should have been able to pay? Yes, I comfortably can. But seriously, use your common sense, do you want to pay?
- You should have given them local contact, why didn’t it work? Yes I did give them my boss number. Unfortunately when they called, its 230 am and she
was sleeping. When she called ICA early in the morning, around 8am they simply said that they are sending me back. And mind you, we were put on the flight at 11 am instead of 7. So obviously they had some time to revert their decision, but they didn’t.”
Similar to Thuy, I have also faced discrimination because of my "third-world passport". I hold a dual citizenship: Vietnamese and Czech. I have been travelling around the world with my Vietnamese passport since I received it in 2008, so I am really proud of all the stamps I have in my passport. My Czech passport is half a year new, so I have not had lots of opportunities to travel with it yet. As a Czech citizen, I can travel to Canada for up to six months visa-free, but I also have a Canadian visitor visa in my Vietnamese passport that expires on the same day as the passport. Before my flight to Canada, I was the only person to be interrogated for a long while by the airline staff at the Frankfurt airport because I held a Vietnamese passport along with my Czech passport. If I had shown them my blank Czech passport only, they would not have asked me any questions. But because I also showed them my Vietnamese passport, I was suspicious for them. Doesn't having a Canadian visa mean that I have already been thoroughly checked by the Canadian embassy? I have seen many European citizens that are travelling with their blank passports without problems. Because again, the common idea still is that the colour of our passport matters more than who we really are.
We who sign this petition have one simple wish: We wish to see all the people around the world to be treated NOT depending on the country of their passport, BUT depending on who they really are.
We want to feel equality at the customs offices because we cannot be blamed for the faulty decisions and actions of the people who happen to be from our countries.
The World Citizens