Supplementary Questions During the Committee of Supply Debate, 2 March 2020

02 March 2020

MP Louis Ng Kok Kwang: I have a clarification for SMS Maliki regarding the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. I understand that the camps are ready, the reception area is ready as well, but I think there is an issue of trust here. That is why the Rohingya refugees want to go back themselves to do an independent assessment. I am just wondering whether this can at least be discussed or put up as an agenda for the upcoming ASEAN summit, so that we can finally resolve this stalemate and move forward with this issue.

SMS: Thank you. I thank the member for his question. I fully appreciate his concern for those who are affected. I think the ASEAN Foreign Ministers will continue to reconcile on these issues and we really want to facilitate the repatriation of the refugees back to their homeland. As you are well aware, there is also concern for their security and we have to make sure that the security is made available and they feel secure enough to go back. We will continue to work with our ASEAN partners to ensure that the situation is conducive enough for them to return. 

MP Vikram Nair: Mr Speaker, I would like to seek clarification and elaboration on what may happen with Malaysia. Because typically when the administration changes, notwithstanding that they may have a good relationship with us, they may have different priorities from the previous administration. Are there any projects that you think may be slowed down as a result of that, and if so, what can we do about that?

Minister: The Cabinet in Malaysia has not been announced yet. I do not want to prejudge the issue. But I will just make two points. We know all the people in the political scene in Malaysia, and we try to make an extra effort to maintain these ties, and to build that reservoir of goodwill and trust. So let us keep an open mind. The second point I want to make is the importance of consistency and a principled foreign policy. I hope this is a moment where Singaporeans appreciate – it is good to be boring and consistent. 

MP Louis Ng Kok Kwang: Thank you sir, just to follow up again. I really do appreciate all the work that ASEAN and MFA are doing, providing a lot of assurance to the Rohingyas. But I think that it would help if we just allow some of them to go back, to tell the rest of the 1.2 million refugees in Bangladesh now that it is safe to return. Otherwise it will be a stalemate and will be a back-and-forth. It has been two years since we talked about repatriation and not a single one is willing to go back. 

SMS: I think that you will appreciate that it is not up to us to allow them to go back. It is up to the Myanmar government to allow them to go back. And we really want to encourage the stakeholders on the ground to understand such circumstances, especially the NGOs that are working on the ground. At the ASEAN level, I can assure you that at every Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the issue of the Rakhine State will always be discussed. Whatever the decision that is being made, we have to respect that it is a decision that the Myanmar government will have to take as and when they are ready to facilitate the process.  

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