Contributed by Travelista Journal
After our trip to Noah’s Ark in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, we headed back to Singapore. I was with a group of photographers, and 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. I didn’t have any problem passing through the border from Singapore to Malaysia but coming back from Malaysia to Singapore was my worst nightmare. I thought all I needed to do was line up, have my bag scanned, present my passport, get a stamp on my passport and that’s it. But I was wrong. The lady officer started to ask me series of questions and then the grilling questions started to escalate.
Travel is fun, life-changing and totally rewarding, but it 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 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 composed myself and had 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.
The Immigration Border
A border between countries will normally check those who cross the border and decide whether they can enter the country or get denied. This will involve checking the validity of your travel documents, 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. I was even asked why my partner was not with me when I went to Johor Bahru, Malaysia. How could we be 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 have been dreaming of? This was what I really wanted to say to the face of the Immigration Officer but I know it’s wrong and I should be humble and calm. They even checked some of my photos taken at the animal shelter, reviewed my return ticket, asked how much money I have in my wallet and so on. It was just like an unending interrogation and repeated questions trying to squeeze all details that they could get from me. I answered all their questions in a very straightforward way and I knew I have answered it in all honesty that even matched my supporting documents.
I was thinking they might just want to make sure that I am consistent with my answers. An Immigration Officer is free to ask just about any question and to be treated with respect, you should remain 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. Lots of questions started to pop up in my mind. Why are they 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 was to have my passport stamped and leave the immigration office.
I understand that 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 plans to violate any laws. Remember Singapore is known as a FINE CITY. Any violations of their laws, you might be sentenced to deportation and in severe cases and if proven guilty, sentenced to DEATH. In Singapore, possession 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.
Filipinos were sentenced to death due to cases of drug trafficking in other countries like Malaysia, China, Singapore, Hong Kong. Filipinos were caught as drug mules and because of these 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, come 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 was the predicament that I went through even though my purpose of travel is just to visit the animal sanctuary.
Grilling questions and no ending interrogation…
After reviewing all my legal documents, the lady officer approached me and asked me if it would be okay 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 a Singaporean couple who were photographers. The couple 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 lady 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 from their suspicions, allowed to go home and back with my partner.
At the Clearance Room…
The officer called me to have my thumbprint, stamped my passports and told me that I need to go back to the Philippines on the 15th of April as stated in my return 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 generalise
I am truly aware that some of my fellowmen committed a crime in your countries but please do not generalise us because there is still a 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 with, 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 let misadventures discourage you from travelling. Instead, take it as a challenge and learn 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 meagre 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. 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 offences.
- 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 who 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 8 April 2017. I love Singapore, and Singapore is my second home already.