By Gurdip Singh
Singapore, Jul 16 (PTI) Former diplomats and scholars here are of the opinion that it is within the right of ex-Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to enter Singapore for a ‘private visit’ after fleeing his country because he holds a valid passport and is not wanted for any crime.
Rajapaksa, 73, landed in Singapore on Thursday from the Maldives where he had fled early Wednesday amid unprecedented protests against his government for mismanaging the economy that bankrupted the country.
Bilahari Kausikan, former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), said many nationalities can enter Singapore for different periods, depending on their visa requirements.
“Any Sri Lankan citizen with a valid passport can come to Singapore for a certain period of time without having to ask for any special permission (…) he is a normal person, a president is a citizen of his country,” he said. Kausikan told TODAY. .
He added that exceptions apply, such as if the person is a wanted criminal.
“He is not wanted for any crime, no Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization) red notice has been issued against him, so why shouldn’t we let him in?”
The Singapore Visa website shows that Sri Lankan citizens like Rajapaksa are allowed to travel to Singapore without a visa for trips under 30 days – for purposes such as tourism and recreation, to visit family and to their friends and for treatment.
Associate Professor Chong Ja Ian, who teaches political science at the National University of Singapore, pointed out that Singapore is also considered a popular transit location, which does not usually turn visitors away.
“We’re a major transit (and) transportation hub anyway, where people are coming in and going out,” he said. “Unless there is a compelling political reason or other consideration, there is no reason to block entry,” Professor Chong was quoted by TODAY as saying.
A social visit is different from applying for asylum. A social visit is bound by the restrictions stipulated in each traveler’s visa conditions, while generally, those seeking asylum can stay in the host country for a longer period.
People who are granted asylum will generally have no limits on how long they can stay in the country, as well as other “protections”, Prof Assoc Chong said.
The country will offer certain types of legal protections, such as not extraditing the person (compelling the person back to stand trial in the country where they were accused of doing something illegal), or allowing them to settle or stay for an extended period. period of time, he said.
Kausikan said the length of stay for asylum seekers is “at the discretion of the country granting asylum.”
However, he also said a person can have their stay in the country cut short if they commit a crime there.
Home Secretary K Shanmugam said in a written parliamentary response in September last year: “As a small, densely populated country with limited land, Singapore is unable to accept people requesting political asylum or refugee status”.
On Thursday evening, after Rajapaksa and his wife arrived at Changi Airport, Singapore’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that the Sri Lankan President had been permitted to enter the city-state for a “private visit “.
“He did not apply for asylum, nor was he granted asylum. Singapore generally does not grant asylum applications,” the foreign ministry said.
Assistant Professor Dylan Loh of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), added that Singapore’s current stance on refugees and asylum seekers “is in line with its belief in the limits of space and also the way whose sudden influx of people can upset the social and security balance of society”.
Assistant Professor Loh, who is part of NTU’s Public Policy and Global Affairs Division, stressed that no exceptions can be made as it would set a precedent for future cases.
“There is no room for flexibility, even if it is for one person, as it can lead to further calls to open up or reconsider one’s position.”
Kausikan said there was also no incentive for a country to accept people seeking asylum.
Speaking about political asylum in general, he said: “Political asylum is a very subjective thing. It is very difficult to determine what the facts of (each) case are…why get drawn into a very messy (where) you don’t know all the facts?”
The former permanent secretary for foreign affairs said: “There is nothing in it for us. What is the advantage for Singapore, a small overpopulated country, and what is the interest that we have (to accept political asylum seekers)?
There have been several instances in the past of political leaders coming to Singapore either in exile or for medical treatment, according to the TODAY report.
None of these stays was qualified as an attempt to seek asylum.
For example, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a fugitive living in voluntary exile and convicted of various crimes in his home country, has been spotted in Singapore on several occasions, until March this year when he was here for a regular medical checkup, according to a Bangkok Post report.
Thaksin served as prime minister from 2001 until 2006, when he was overthrown in a military coup.
Robert Mugabe, who served as Zimbabwe’s first post-independence president and ruled for nearly four decades until his ousting in 2017, came to Singapore for treatment in 2019 and eventually died in hospital in Gleneagles here.
There is also the case of Ibrahim Nasir, the former president of the Maldives, who went into exile in Singapore in 1978, and remained there until his death at the age of 82 in 2008 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. .
Rajapaksa’s entry into Singapore has resurfaced questions about the nation’s stance on asylum seekers, according to the TODAY report.
On July 9, Rajapaksa announced he would step down on July 13 after thousands of protesters stormed his official residence, blaming him for the unprecedented economic crisis that has brought the country to its knees.
Rajapaksa, who enjoys immunity from prosecution as long as he is president, fled the country without resigning to avoid the possibility of arrest by the new government. he then sent his resignation to the Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.
Rajapaksa’s flight to the Maldives was brokered by the Speaker of the Maldivian Majlis (Parliament) and former President Mohamed Nasheed, sources in Malé, the Maldives’ capital, said.
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is in the grip of an unprecedented economic crisis, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other necessities. Last week Prime Minister Wickremesinghe declared that Sri Lanka was now a bankrupt country. PTI GS CK NSA AKJ