From The Straits Times archives

He was born here, did NS here, and will raise kids here. So why is this man stateless?

Turned down twice for Singapore citizenship, this reformed drug addict is upset that he belongs nowhere

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 23, 2003

He looks and sounds like your average Singaporean. 'Lahs' and 'lors' pepper his speech and he wears the local uniform of shirt, bermudas and sandals.

But Barnabas Lim Ah Huat, 33, isn't a Singaporean, and that's made this ex-convict the talk of the town.

The subject of letters, columns and radio talkshows since his letter was published in The Straits Times' Forum on Sept 27, he has twice applied for citizenship and been rejected. His blue identity card declares him to be stateless.

He said: 'I'm Singapore-born, my family is here, I did my national service, I'll be getting married next year and my children will be born here. Yet I'm not allowed to be Singaporean. Where do I belong if not here?'

He admits he's no role model and is candid about his 'wild' childhood.


He was in Primary 2 before he saw his father for the first time. His father, now 60, had been in jail all the while for gang activities.

Mr Lim wasn't a citizen at birth because his parents weren't married then, and his mother was an Indonesian. They married in 1994 and she died four years later.

It was she who raised Mr Lim and his younger brother, also stateless.

'She didn't know how to educate us,' he said.

'We couldn't handle the freedom and I went haywire.'

As a Primary 6 pupil, he sniffed glue in the toilets of the then Towner Primary School in Bendemeer Road and, by 14, he'd graduated to ganja. Granted permanent residence at 12, he was later called up for national service and served in the First Guards Unit.

In 1992, he was fined for possessing sleeping pills that hadn't been prescribed; six months' jail in 1994 for taking heroin; and in 1997, two years' jail for possessing heroin.

He is upfront about the drugs.

The turning point came in 1999 when he met an ex-addict who had become a Christian. Mr Lim took the biblical name Barnabas and entered The Hiding Place, a halfway house. Some 14 months later, he walked out clean.

Its pastor, Mr Joey Yuen, said: 'He was determined to go through the programme.'

People are asking how long more Mr Lim must wait for citizenship since he has served his time and stayed drug-free for three years.

Two more years, suggested Mr Yuen, who thinks Mr Lim has earned a second chance. 'After five years, the chances of a relapse become very low. In two years, if he still doesn't get his citizenship, we'll appeal on his behalf,' said Mr Yuen.

In June, Mr Lim is due to marry his girlfriend of two years, who is a Singaporean. They've applied to buy an HDB flat in Yio Chu Kang. He earns a steady monthly income of $1,300 plus commission, working at a car workshop, and volunteers at The Hiding Place regularly.

But it rankles that ' I belong nowhere', he said.

He has no passport. To travel, he must use a green 'certificate of identity', which isn't recognised universally.

Last year, he was turned away by Qatar, a Persian Gulf state, and lost a lucrative contract posting as an events coordinator.

He said: 'I have a criminal record, but give me a chance. I promise, I'll be a good Singaporean.'


Being born and growing up in Singapore does not automatically entitle a person to Singapore citizenship, says the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

It is a privilege not granted lightly.

In Mr Barnabas Lim's case, his nationality should follow the nationality of his Indonesian mother as his parents were not legally married at the time of his birth.

But his parents did not register him for Indonesian citizenship. As a stateless person who has lived here since he was born, he was granted permanent resident (PR) status at an age when he first registered for an identity card, or NRIC. All Singapore PRs are required to register for a blue NRIC and the law requires permanent residents here to go through national service. But national service does not in itself entitle a PR to citizenship.

Every application is assessed on its own merits, said the ICA. Factors such as the extent of family roots in Singapore, good conduct records including whether an applicant has a criminal record, his employment record and national service performance are considered.

The ICA said it considered these factors and was unable to grant Mr Lim citizenship. But it is not closing the door. He can apply again and it will consider his application.