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Published: February 9th 2008
"Death to drug traffickers under Singapore law"
. These words scream at us and every other passenger on the Tiger Airways flight from Macau. Right next to "Welcome to Singapore, they were. In RED
to boot. No 'The Friendly Island' like St. Maarten or 'The Nature Island' like Dominica. Not even 'The Super Clean Country' like Singapore was trumped up to be. But "Death..." And In Red and bolded. We hurriedly filled out the immigration forms and 'stowed (our) tray tables' as the pilot announced preparations for landing.
We had heard a lot of good things about Singapore and we had come, for only two days, en route to another destination. With visions of bazaars, city parks, lots of greenery and a laid-back but professional atmosphere, we were rather excited. Expectations were running high. The Changi Budget Terminal was 'nice, nice'. Clean, landscaped, airy. We bounced down the corridor leading to immigration overtaking less enthusiastic passengers. The time: 1:58 pm.
[b[Stop! Due to the nature of the events about to unfold, we choose, for easier writing, to borrow from Keifer Sutherland's award-winning drama '24' and title this section '4½'
"The following takes place between 2:00 pm and 6:30 pm
Changi Budget Terminal
At this point we were in high spirits. Happy to be in a sub- tropical country once again! Little did we know what Singapore had in store for us.........
We bounce up to the lady at the immigration counter and handed over our passports and immigration forms. Shanna is cleared first, her passport stamped and returned to her. The lady refers Vibert 'for routine checking' to a special immigration desk at the far left corner of the hall. Shanna, concerned, moves away to baggage carousel. Vibert is escorted by an immigration officer, bespectacled and a gimp (name withheld but we'll call him Officer G), to an enclosed holding area. The room is tiny and rectangular and contains only 3 chairs. The door is locked from the outside. There is no door handle on the inside and there is no window except for a small glass square set high in the door. The glass square contains metal wires. Twenty minutes pass
Outside, Shanna stands with the backpacks. Worried. Pacing. "I'm sorry Ma'am but you can't stay here", she hears. Turning around she sees a female security officer. "But i'm waiting for my partner. He is still in there", Shanna said pointing at the closed room. "This is a restricted area. You will have to wait outside". There was no arguing with her. Shanna exits.
Enter an immigration officer. Not Officer G. He escorts Vibert to another room. There is a big computer screen on the wall, a keyboard and some sort of pad. The officer lifts Vibert's hand and places it on the pad. He is taking fingerprints. First the left thumb and then the right. He taps away at a keyboard, clicks with a mouse and then 'No Matches Found' appears on the screen. Vibert is escorted back to the holding area. Forty-three additional minutes pass
Shanna is worried. Very worried. An officer comes to inform Shanna that they will not allow Vibert to enter Singapore and that they will detain him. She gets coins and call the Tourism Hotline. They say that they can't help and that it is an immigration matter. She calls up three asking for their assistance, for which she would pay, and for a good immigration lawyer. They deny assistance. One says 'Get a criminal lawyer. Maybe your boyfriend has drugs'. 'He is NOT a criminal. He doesn't have drugs', Shanna almost screams into the handset but to no avail. She wonders whatever happened to the lawyers' code which obliged them to render legal assistance. With no other options, she calls the Dutch Embassy for advice. Their emergency number is unanswered. She is crying now. A total of 2 hours have passed
Officer G escorts Vibert back to the counter in the immigration hall. G
: "Why did you come to Singapore?" Vibert
: "For vacation" G
: "Where will you stay"? Vibert
: "The Hive" (address also given). G
: "How long will you stay here?" Vibert
: "Two days". G
: "Where will you go from here?" Vibert
: "To country X" (named withheld from reading audience for dramatic final effect) G
: "Do you have a ticket?" Vibert hands over the e-ticket printout. G
: "How do you intend to pay for your stay here?" Vibert
: "I have credit and debit cards". He hands them over.
There is a pause. A long pause. The officer surveys the items before him. Then he insists on chronicling all the places Vibert said he visited in the last 5 months. One by one, Vibert and the officer leaf thru his passport and create a list of 18 different destinations. He had all stamps into and out of each territory. He had no record of ever overstaying. Another pause. G
: "I'm sorry but you are not eligible for social admittance. We will detain you and arrange deportation". Vibert
: "What? Why?
Where to? When? Why?" I have a hotel, more than enough money, a confirmed onward flight in two days and I don't need a visa for Singapore. Why?" He is flabbergasted. G
: "You will get official paperwork and I will have to talk to the airlines".
Vibert: "Can I call a lawyer and also speak to my girlfriend. She's outside?" G
: "You don't need a lawyer. You are not under arrest. I will see what I can do about your girlfriend". He escorts Vibert back into the holding area. Total elapsed time: 2 hours 45 minutes.
Shanna visits the Terminal Manager's office and insists on meeting him. He listens and lends her his office phone. She tries calling more lawyers but without success. That the next day is a public holiday is even a bigger concern. Plus, it is getting late and all the law offices are closed or closing. She asks the Terminal Manager (name withheld) to see what's going on and if he could lend any assistance. He consents. The pangs of hunger start setting in for both Vibert and Shanna. Their only meal was breakfast in Macau at 6 am. Vibert and Shanna have not yet been allowed to talk to each other. Time check: 5:45 pm.
Vibert is back at the counter. The Terminal Manager is now present. He tells Vibert that he is in touch with Shanna and that she knows the situation. The officer has consulted with the airlines. G
: "We have no immediate flights. Therefore, we will hold you for 2 days and deport you to country X on flight no. XX (number withheld)". Vibert: "What? You mean you will detain me only to send me out of Singapore on the SAME flight I am originally booked to travel on?" G
: "Yes. In the meantime, I have prepared transfer papers for you and this officer (a new arrival) will escort you to another place. You will be more comfortable there". He hands the transfer papers to the new officer and motions for the officer to leave thru a back door.
Vibert, who had been uncharacteristically calm throughout the entire ordeal, now became ever so slightly agitated. "I am not leaving this building until you inform me why you are detaining me when I surpass your entry requirements. Plus, I need to speak to my girlfriend and a lawyer. Why are you detaining me? What have I done wrong?" The officer didn't answer. "I believe I have a right under law to be informed about the reason for your refusal to admit me into Singapore. Why are you detaining me? I have a hotel...", Vibert demanded while rehashing a previous defense. The officer whispers to a nearby colleague and then he picks up the phone. Time expired: 4 hours
. Shanna is livid
. The Terminal Manager has not returned. She feels helpless. She prays.
Inside, Vibert prays silently. After a long telephone conversation in a language Vibert did not understand: "We've decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. We will issue you a Special Pass for two days after which you are to leave Singapore", the officer informs taking the transfer papers back from the new officer. The new officer exits. Vibert hides his elation. "What doubt?", he persists but quickly eases up. He wants to get outside to see Shanna. Officer G types up a Special Form and hands a copy to Vibert. He is free to go. His passport was not stamped in.
Vibert and the Terminal Manager walk back to the office. They turn a corner and almost collide with Shanna. Her eyes are red and puffy. She was in a hurry to somewhere. Vibert and Shanna embrace. Long and tight. They both cry. The Terminal Manager exits. Tick tock tick tock. Time expired: 4½ hours
The Aftermath We grabbed a cab and he noticed the stress and enquired
. "Hard time clearing immigration", we said. "It's like that sometimes. You're out now. Just forget it and go shopping", he replies. "Go shopping? Go shopping? Singapore wouldn't get my hard-earned money. They don't deserve it. I would not even send my neighbour's mangy dog here", Vibert vented at the driver. He thought about apologizing. He didn't.
The guys at 'The Hive' - a backpacker's joint - were a topnotch bunch of youngsters. The place was decently priced, trendy and had free breakfast and wifi. We spent virtually all of our two days indoors refusing to visit any sight or spend any unnecessary money. The times we did venture outdoors were when we got hungry. Dinner was Indian-style in the brightly decorated Little India district. It was the day before Diwali, the festival of lights. Before we left, we wrote an official complaint letter via email to the Quality Service Manager of the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (name withheld) and CCed it to several other high-ranking public officials who had anything remotely to do with ICA and unlawful detentions. We also visited his office and personally lodged the complaint. On the scheduled departure day we received a reply email stating that he will investigate the matter and get back to us.
We had no troubles leaving but as the aircraft rose higher in the night's sky, en route to country X, our fears about returning to Singapore rose as well. The officer couldn't 'guarantee any better treatment' if we returned to Singapore. Unfortunately, we had other travel plans out of Singapore when we would have returned from 31 days of backpacking thru country X
. (Bring up the music, darken the screen and run the cast).
😊 The Budget Terminal Manager
A first - apologies to: The taxi driver
Vibert as 'Vibert'
Shanna as 'Shanna'
The Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority
The Terminal Manager
Various lawyers Note
: This script is based on a true story. The identities of some actors have been withheld for obvious reasons. No Hollywood gimmicks or special effects have been employed. All stunts are performed by the actors themselves. Filmed on location in Changi Budget Terminal, Singapore. There are NO copyrights on this script. Feel free to download, rip, burn, crack, bootleg and distribute at will and far and wide. For commercial and private consumption.
production in association with "out a possible ten".
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