It was reported on Straits Times (ST) today that Singapore has brought back a few hundred locals from Malaysia since March when the border was closed between the 2 countries (‘4-year-old reunited with family in S’pore after being separated by Causeway for almost 9 months‘, 28 Dec).
Last month’s end, the Singapore government brought back more than 30 children who had been left in Malaysia as Covid-19 travel restrictions came into effect in March. Among the 30, ST highlighted a 4-year-old girl, Reiko, whose family are permanent residents (PR) in Singapore.
Marketing manager, Kenny Cheah, and his wife lived in Singapore with their two other children who attend school here. However, Reiko would be cared for by Cheah’s mother in Johor. The family would then travel to Johor every weekends so that they can spend time with the daughter. When the border was closed in March, they could not visit Reiko anymore.
Said Cheah, “With all the different lockdowns and circuit breaker, it was just day after day of being unsure over what to do for Reiko. We called her every day, and she would keep saying how she wants her dad and mum.”
Finally in October, Cheah and his wife decided to bring Reiko over to Singapore. He contacted Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, which has been working with the Foreign Affair Ministry on weekly operations since April to bring minors over from Johor.
Cheah was full of praise for the Singapore government. He recounted how the Singapore authorities went to an “amazing extent” to get his daughter back from Johor. This included securing approval from Malaysia’s immigration agency to have his mother take Reiko to the Johor checkpoint. Two specially assigned Singaporean officers then drove him to the Johor checkpoint to pick her up. Cheah and his daughter would later board a special bus and be taken to their assigned quarantine hotel – Capri by Fraser at China Square.
Both Cheah and his daughter had to serve the mandatory 14-day stay-home notice (SHN). At the hotel, Reiko could only wave at her mother four floors up behind the room’s glass window. Cheah told ST, “They were crying to each other on the phone, saying ‘so near yet so far’. And when my wife came to pick us up two weeks later, they ran to each other and started crying again… very dramatic.”
MFA officer Tay Woon Min, who has been helping Singaporeans and PRs, explained to ST, “As the border closure was further extended, they became increasingly anxious about when they could be reunited with their children, whom they had not seen for months. (The children) needed our help to return (to Singapore).”
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan wrote on his Facebook page saying that public officers “have been working hard behind the scenes… with little fanfare”, to reunite loved ones. “They are among the unseen heroes during this crisis,” the Minister added.
“It’s a special privilege to welcome the new year, and attendant hopes and aspirations, together as a family.”
Malaysian Cheah could not agree more. “The first thing we did was to have a meal. Our first outing was to Bedok Reservoir, for the kids to just run about and blow bubbles,” he said. “For the new year, we will go to Orchard Road to walk around. Nothing much… but it will be nice.”
Indeed, Cheah must have been very grateful for the help he had received from the Singapore government.
According to the Singapore’s Population White Paper, it said, “Permanent residence is an intermediate status through which foreigners take up citizenship. It is meant for those who have a long-term stake in Singapore and intend to sink roots here.”
It’s not known if Cheah and his wife, both who are Malaysians and PRs presently, intend to sink their roots here and take up the Singapore citizenship eventually or to retire back in Malaysia ultimately.