Remarks on consular assistance to Singaporeans by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Sam Tan in Parliament during the Committee of Supply Debate on 6 March 2012 - 9/03/2012

09 Mar 2012

Response by SPS Sam Tan


Consular Assistance


Mr Chairman, Sir. Dr Lim Wee Kiak, Mr Ong Teng Koon and Mr Alex Yam asked for updates on how MFA is addressing the increasing demand by Singaporeans overseas for consular assistance, especially during times of emergencies.


One of MFA's key challenges is providing round the clock consular assistance to Singaporeans across the world. Singaporeans are not only travelling more but they are also travelling to more far flung places - places where we can’t even pronounce their names, as mentioned by Mr Alex Yam just now. So as a result, there has been a corresponding increase in requests for consular services and assistance. Singaporeans’ expectations of our consular services have also risen over time.


We take the safety and security of our Singaporeans abroad very seriously. Sir, we encourage Singaporeans who travel overseas to e-register with us so that MFA can render assistance in an emergency.


Sir, worldwide we have 47 embassies and consulates, and this is in addition to a network of 27 consulates run by Honorary Consuls who provide consular assistance to Singaporeans in locations where we do not have representation. Where we do not have representation, there is also an agreement among ASEAN countries to help each other’s nationals when there is an emergency. In extreme situations and cases, we also request for assistance from friendly countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.


Sir, in Singapore, we have a Duty Office which is manned 24/7 to deal with any emergencies. We constantly review our contingency plans to deal with potential flashpoints where Singaporeans could be affected and we have also participated in many inter-Ministry emergency preparedness exercises. If there is a need, we will also deploy Consular Response Teams or CRTs to help Singaporeans in crisis areas following natural and man-made disasters. For example, CRTs were deployed to Japan after the Fukushima nuclear incident, and also to Bangkok during the floods last year to assist affected Singaporeans in these countries.


Sir, we constantly strive to improve the quality of our consular services. We encourage Singaporeans who travel overseas to eRegister with us so that we can contact them in the event of an emergency. We also launched a Twitter feed (@MFASgConsular) in late 2011 to provide timely information on consular matters, such as our travel notices and advice. Some of our Missions are also active on the social media, which gives them another platform to keep in closer touch with Singaporeans in areas of their coverage.


We also plan to launch our own smartphone application in the next few months. Besides providing easy information to eRegister, the smartphone application will also assist Singaporeans to locate the nearest Singapore Overseas Mission based on their current location, and this application also makes access to consular information and services to Singaporeans on-the-go.


Sir, while we have and will continue to do all we can to assist Singaporeans in distress, there are also clear limits to what we can do. Sir, we receive many requests for assistance, and not every request can be fulfilled or is within reasons to expect MFA to deal with. The decision to travel is the responsibility of the travellers, and they should do all they can to secure their personal safety.


Singaporeans when abroad should be prepared to put up with some inconveniences, unavoidable frustrations and the occasional delays, especially when dealing with unfamiliar foreign customs, cultures, rules and regulations. At the same time, they must also follow the rules and the laws of the countries that they are in.


Sir, every country has its own rules and laws that have to be respected by other countries as sovereign rights. We cannot interfere in the laws of other countries in the way that we will never allow a foreign country or foreign government to interfere with the application of our own laws in Singapore. Notwithstanding all these constraints and conditions MFA will continue to provide consular services to Singaporeans to the best of its ability.

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