After our trip to NOAH’S ARK in Johor Bahru Malaysia we headed back to Singapore from Malaysia. ( I was with a group of photographers. The purpose of our trip was to visit the animal sanctuary and to take photos of the animals).
When we reached the border of Malaysia going to Singapore we alighted from the van and entered the Singapore immigration station. Passing through Singapore to Malaysian border I didn’t have any problem but coming back from Malaysia to Singapore that was when my worst nightmare started. I thought all I need to do is line up, have my bag scanned, present my passport, get a stamp on my passport and that’s it. But I was wrong. The woman officer started to ask me series of questions and then the grilling questions started to escalate
Travel is fun and a life-changing experience and totally rewarding but travel is definitely NOT unicorns and rainbows all the time. When caught in a situation where control is not in your hands, your world would turn upside down.
Sometimes no matter how ready you are, misadventures happen and no matter how you present yourself and prove yourself in another country, you will always be subject to the laws of their land – it’s their country, their RULES, their LAWS.
However with my background in the Immigration Consultancy Firm and recruitment agencies I knew that I can handle the situation. I was scared to death, wanted to freak out, but I needed to compose myself and have a positive presence of mind. Panicking would not help me rather it would just worsen the situation. I just have to be HONEST and BE TRUTHFUL with my answers.
What the Immigration Border Does?
A border between countries will normally checks people crossing the border and decide if they allowed you to enter the country or being denied entry. This will involve checking your travel documents are valid, verify the reason for entering the country and the length of your stay. The officer will inspect your passport and supporting documents, for verification that you have obtained permission to enter their country, as well as any information that might prohibit you from doing so. Have all your visa or documents ready.
And the interrogation process begins…Be prepared for Questions..
What is the purpose of my trip to Malaysia, how many days will I stay in Malaysia, where am I staying in Singapore, how many days am I staying in Singapore, they even checked if I have my camera with me. Was even asked why partner was not with me when I went to Johor Bahru Malaysia. How could we able to travel when both of us were no longer working ( Do you really need to have a work to travel the world and enjoy the life that you been dreaming of?) This was in my mind that I really wanted to say to the face of the immigration officer but I know it’s wrong and I would rather be humbled and stay calmed. They even checked some of my photos taken at the animal shelter, reviewed my return ticket, asked how much money do I have in my wallet and so on. It was just like an unending interrogations and repeatedly questions trying to squeeze all details that they could get from you. I answered all their questions in a very straight forward way and I knew I have answered it in all honesty and that even matched my supporting documents.
I was thinking, they might just wanted to make sure that I am consistent with my answers. An Immigration Officer is free to ask just about any question and the chances of being treated with respect is by remaining calm, polite, and respectful.
Scared…OH HELL YAH!!!
A woman officer asked me to enter their office. This was when I really almost started to freak out. I was there sitting while listening to the three officers talking to each other in a language I did not understand while reviewing my passport and my return ticket back to the Philippines. I couldn’t understand them as they were talking in their own local dialect ( Singaporean language). Lots of questions started to pop up in my mind. Why they are trying to hold me, how long would it take, are they going to detain me, what did I do wrong, is my group still waiting for me and the service van. Would I able to go home with my partner. Was I scared? Yes I was scared but pretended not to be…all I wanted is to have my passport stamped and leave the immigration office.
I understand they are just doing their jobs and following certain protocols and all I had to do was answer their questions that match my legal requirements as a tourist in their country and show that I don’t have plan to violate any laws. Remember Singapore is known as a FINE CITY. Any violations against their laws might be sentenced to deportation and in severe cases, if proven guilty sentenced to DEATH. In Singapore, possessions of drugs is tantamount to a death penalty. “Death to drug traffickers” is a ubiquitous poster scattered all over Singapore thereby affirming that ignorance would never be an excuse to the law.
Known to other countries like Malaysia, China, Singapore, Hong Kong Filipinos were sentenced to death due to cases of drug trafficking. Filipinos caught as drug mules and because of this incidents neighbouring and other countries have been very wary and suspicious of Filipinos and generalised that all Filipinos are the same, even if you are just a tourist. Some would exit Malaysia came back to Singapore to extend their stay hoping they could find a work. One commits a crime, and the rest of the fellowmen take the blame for it. And this is was the predicament that I went through even my purpose of travel is just to visit the animal sanctuary.
Grilling Questions and No Ending Interrogation…
After reviewing all my legal documents, the woman officer approached me and asked me if it would be okay for if they allowed my group to leave without me and that they will be the one to bring me to the bus station as they still don’t know when the interrogations will end. This was when I answered, “NO”. I insisted that I am with my group I need to be with my group going back home. They escorted me outside to talk to my group and asked them if they could wait for me. I asked a Filipina friend if she could wait for me. During this time the two officers were talking with our Singaporean driver and two Singaporean couples (photographers). The couples explained to the officers the purpose of our trip to Malaysia. I heard them talking to the officers that we came to Malaysia for a one day event to photograph animals in the shelter.
The rest of the group decided to head back home while my Filipina friend whom I met during our trip in NOAH’s ARK in Johor Bahru Malaysia decided to wait for me.
The officers escorted me back into their office. Exhausted from all the tedious and exhausting process, finally the woman officer told me to follow her to their clearance officer and that was when I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew that I am cleared to their suspicions and allowed to go home and back with my partner.
At the Clearance Room…
The officer called me to have my thumbprint and stamped my passports and told me that I need to go back to Philippines on the 15th of April as stated in my returned ticket. i smiled and I said ” Yes, I understand”.
Finally, I was out from the moment and just wanted to walk in a hurry out in the Immigration Border. There I saw my Filipina friend “Dinx” who patiently waited for me outside. I would be forever grateful and thankful for her. She was there in a situation where I needed it most even when we knew each other the day when we went to NOAH’S ARK in Johor Bahru Malaysia.
DO NOT GENERALIZE
I am truly aware that some of my fellowmen committed a crime in your countries but please do not generalise us because there are still good circle of Filipinos. The Filipinos who are caught doing crimes are just a small percentage of the Filipino population. I understand that what happened to me may be part of the security measures that your country observes. But please do not be very condescending towards us. We are good people if you only realise to give us a chance.
LESSONS I LEARNED
- No matter what accusations you are charged of, always be humble, stay calm, be honest and respectful. Remember you are in a foreign land, and you are subject to their laws and rules.
- While crossing borders, make sure you have all the necessary documents ( plane tickets, accommodation bookings, etc.) with you. Have a journal with you where you can write down the address of people where you will be staying, their contact numbers and the like. This will help a lot.
- Do not misadventures discourage your from travelling. Instead take it as a challenge and learned from it.
- Do not leave your bags unattended.
- Dress appropriately, look good and feel confident. Do not dress down and look like a poor girl on meager substance, but do not overdress nor wear skimpy clothes ( you might be accused of being a prostitute).
- Read all the rules and laws of countries you would be visiting before arriving in the country. Some laws are common sense, but it’s good to keep in mind that what are seen as small offences in some countries might be considered serious offenses.
- Keep your head up high and be proud to be a FILIPINO despite the degrading discrimination they impose upon you.
- Respect the local cultures, laws and rules and I guarantee you’ll be fine. Be aware of everything you do and show how Filipinos really are.
- Pray and Keep on praying. Prayer is a very powerful weapon
Disclaimer: I do not in any way, intend to complain nor rant nor bash about the Singaporean immigration nor its people. This is just an expression of my experience how I felt when I crossed the Malaysia to Singapore border last April 8, 2017. I love Singapore and Singapore is my second home already.