S'pore to work with UN agency to help refugees

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is unable to take in any refugees because of its limited space.
Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is unable to take in any refugees because of its limited space.

As a small and densely populated city state with limited land, Singapore is unable to accept any refugees, even as millions of Syrians flee their war-torn country now overrun by militants.

What is needed is a "political solution to end the conflict definitively", Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told the House yesterday.

Until then, Singapore will work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and legitimate humanitarian groups to help the victims, said Dr Balakrishnan, who did not provide details.

"Unfortunately, that is the limit of what we can do right now, until a political solution and peace are achieved within a fractured country, and in the region as a whole."

He was replying to Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who wanted to know what Singapore's position is on the Syrian refugees.

Expressing Singapore's sympathies, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is "not in a position to accept any persons seeking refugee status, regardless of ethnicity or place of origin", given its constraints.

"This is a longstanding, indeed decades-old, government policy."

Calling the ongoing Syrian conflict a tragedy, Dr Balakrishnan noted that over 220,000 Syrians have been killed, and four million forced to flee. Millions have also been internally displaced by the ongoing battle between the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group, and government forces.

"Syria has become the epicentre for extremism and violence, and this is becoming an international phenomenon," he said, adding that what is needed is an eventual solution and clear strategy to deal with terrorist groups that pose "a clear and present global menace", including to Singapore.

While efforts to resolve the crisis, like recent meetings of the International Syria Support Group and the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution, are steps in the right direction, "achieving this in reality on the ground is much harder than talks and resolutions", said Dr Balakrishnan.

Jermyn Chow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore to work with UN agency to help refugees'. Print Edition | Subscribe