He was born in Malaysia and has lived in Singapore for over 70 years.
Goh Thai Peng’s special pass, however, states that he is “stateless”.
A special pass card, which legalises a foreigner’s stay in Singapore, is issued by immigration authorities for specific purposes such as assisting in investigation, attending court and for stateless persons residing in Singapore.
With no family to turn to for support, the 76-year-old has been spending his days selling tissue paper outside Paya Lebar MRT station over the past decade.
Speaking to AsiaOne on Tuesday (Nov 28), Goh, who previously worked at an opera theatre, said that he usually earns between $10 and $50 a day.
On a bad day? He doesn’t make a cent.
As he struggles to make ends meet, Goh said: “I’m living from day to day and just waiting to die.”
Born in Perak, Goh moved to Singapore with his parents when he was five, and often travelled between Singapore and Malaysia in his teens.
But Malaysian authorities took away his passport when he was 25, without giving him a reason why.
“When I was 13, I tried applying for Singapore citizenship,” Goh said. “But I was rejected since I didn’t know how to speak English or Malay.”
Goh shared that after his parents died, he lost contact with his siblings and children.
“One of my children is living overseas, while the other demanded $20,000 from me,” he said. “I sell tissue paper, where can I get this kind of money?”
While the authorities give him $410 a month in financial assistance, the elderly man said that $350 goes to renting a room in Aljunied.
There are also medical bills that he had to pay, after a recent fall left him unable to walk properly and only able to see in one eye.
Each doctor visit – which included injections and medicine – cost him around $350, he said. Unexpected expenses like these is the reason why he has to scrimp and save whenever he can.
“I don’t dare to eat so much,” he said, adding that he only has one meal a day. “If more people buy tissues from me, then I can spend on food and other daily expenses.”
Stateless in Singapore
In a written reply to parliamentary questions in February 2021, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said that there are 1,109 stateless persons in Singapore as of November 2020.
76 per cent of them are Singapore Permanent Residents (PRs), and enjoy various benefits accorded to PRs such as in healthcare, housing and education.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) evaluates every application for PR or Singapore citizenship on a range of criteria including length of stay in Singapore, economic contributions, education qualifications, age, and family ties to Singaporeans.
“The ICA also takes into consideration the applicant’s circumstances, including the reasons behind the person’s statelessness,” Shanmugam said.
“For example, some may have chosen to give up their foreign citizenship, while others may have lost their citizenship not of their volition, for example, deprived by their country of birth for offences committed.
“Others were born in Singapore but were not eligible for citizenship at birth as their parents were not Singapore citizens and did not obtain citizenship for their children from their home country.”
Goh said that while he considers Singapore as his home, he misses his hometown in Malaysia, and longs to visit there one day.
“It’s been 70 years. Everyone in my hometown must have already died, I don’t know what’s left there,” he added.
“But I don’t have a passport, how do I go to Malaysia?”
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