Assoc Prof Chin Tet Yung:To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether offences relating to the abuse of Singapore passports are on the rise; and (b) what steps are taken to deal with such offences.
The number of cases of abuse of Singapore passports rose from an average of about 50 cases a year from 2000 to 2002, to a high of 116 cases last year. This partly stemmed from the stepping up of enforcement by officers from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) as well as closer cooperation between ICA and their foreign counterparts.
2 A number of these abusers were found to be involved in human smuggling activities. They made use of their passports to travel overseas to escort foreigners to enter other countries illegally, or act as intermediaries between trafficking syndicates and these illegal migrants. Others tampered with, sold or gave away their passports.
Strategy against abusers of Singapore Passports
3 Sir, my Ministry takes a serious view of this matter. Singapore enjoys a high reputation internationally. As a result, the Singapore Passport is well regarded internationally. This is evident from the visa-free entry that Singaporeans currently enjoy in many countries. We cannot allow a small number of Singaporeans who misuse their passport for selfish gains to undermine Singapore Passport, thereby inconveniencing the many other Singaporeans travelling overseas for legitimate purposes.
Denial of Passport facilities and Tough Laws
4 To maintain the integrity of the Singapore passport, we take a tough stance against those who are found to have abused their passports. Anyone who misuses his Singapore passport will be denied passport facilities for 10 years. They may also be charged for offences under the Penal Code and Passports Act.
5 The Police and ICA regularly exchange information with their foreign counterparts on cases of passport abuse, and the modus operandi and trends of human smuggling activities. Timely information sharing enables us to take swift action against such abusers.
Leveraging on Technology
6 In addition, to stay ahead in our fight against syndicates involved in forgery and tampering of our passports, we introduced a new passport with enhanced security features in October 1999. We are currently exploring biometrics technology with a view to further enhancing the security features of our passports. This will make it even more difficult for anyone to abuse the Singapore passport.
7 In summary, Sir, we will come down hard on those who abuse their Singapore passports. I am sure that the vast majority of Singaporeans who travel for legitimate purposes will agree that this is a necessary measure to protect their interests.