Singaporean travellers should register online with MFA in case of emergencies: Dr Maliki

Travellers at Changi Airport Terminal 3.
Travellers at Changi Airport Terminal 3. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Singapore - Singaporeans should register online with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) each time they travel overseas so consular staff can contact them quickly during crises, said Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman on Thursday.

He added it is a misperception that the MFA's eRegister system is a means for the Government to track Singapore's movements.

Instead, it had allowed the ministry to help Singaporeans during emergency situations such as earthquakes, terror attacks and civil unrest.

"It is in their interest that they eRegister so that we can help them should they face an emergency situation abroad," said Dr Maliki during the parliamentary debate on MFA's budget.

He was updating the House on how the ministry assists Singaporeans in distress situations overseas through consular services.

He cited as examples how consular officers had tracked down and helped Singaporeans who were registered during last month's Brussels bombings and last November's Paris terror attacks.

MFA officers had worked day and night to contact registered Singaporeans and did not stop until all 263 were accounted for during the Paris attacks, said Dr Maliki.

As one of the Singaporeans did not subscribe to auto-roaming services, the consular officers had to use Facebook and Twitter to contact him and make sure he was safe, he added.

In 2015, MFA deployed several crisis response teams to help Singaporeans return from places rocked by earthquakes or civil unrest, such as Nepal, Sabah and Yemen.

Its overseas missions have also rostered officers on duty at all hours of the day so that Singaporeans who urgently need help can get in touch with MFA, said Dr Maliki.

But he cautioned that the ministry "cannot, however, accede to unreasonable requests, especially those that divert our attention or limited resources away from more urgent cases. Singaporeans must also respect and observe local laws as MFA is not in a position to intervene in the legal or judicial process of another country".

He also urged Singaporeans to play their part to stay safe when travelling. For instance, they should purchase comprehensive travel and medical insurance, as emergency medical bills incurred overseas can be very costly, he said.

He added: "While MFA is committed to do its utmost for our fellow citizens, Singaporeans should also play their part by staying in close contact with their next-of-kin and close friends, taking necessary precautions for their personal safety and planning properly for their travels."