Budget debate: Six Singaporeans still in Ukraine, after three more evacuated

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SINGAPORE - Another three Singaporeans have been evacuated from Ukraine, leaving six still in the country, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

Dr Balakrishnan gave this update during the debate on his ministry's budget on Thursday (March 3), three days after he told the House that nine Singaporeans remain in Ukraine.

Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine on Feb 24 after months of tension at the border, with Russian troops massing and conducting military exercises. Its actions have been widely condemned by countries around the world, including Singapore.

Singapore continues to try to get humanitarian assistance there, said Dr Balakrishnan.

He added that Asean will shortly be issuing a statement that will call for an immediate ceasefire of hostilities in Ukraine.

Noting that MPs had asked for more updates about Singapore's position and response to the conflict, Dr Balakrishnan reiterated points he made in a ministerial statement on Monday about how Singapore must take a stand against actions that clearly violate sovereignty, political independence and the territorial integrity of all countries.

This, he stressed, is because it is ultimately also about Singapore as a tiny city state.

"When push comes to shove, smaller countries like Singapore must be prepared to defend ourselves and not get caught up in the geopolitical games of big powers. We do not take sides, but we do take a stand to uphold existential principles," he said.

"We make common cause with our neighbours and our friends within Asean and the UN General Assembly to the maximum extent possible," he said.

Turning to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on foreign policy, Dr Balakrishnan told the House that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has helped to bring home more than 4,600 Singaporeans since the pandemic broke out in 2020.

He added that his ministry also supported the launch of vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs), which allow for quarantine-free travel, as well as the mutual recognition of health certificates to facilitate the safe resumption of international travel.

Despite taking precautions, about 40 MFA officers who were overseas, and more than 150 locally recruited staff at the ministry's Overseas Missions, contracted Covid-19, said Dr Balakrishnan.

More than 300 MFA officers served Singaporeans in their overseas postings, and he expressed pride that no officer asked to leave their posts because of the coronavirus.

Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sim Ann also touched on the work of foreign service officers to help Singaporeans deal with the pandemic.

She said over 360 Singaporeans overseas had registered with the Government for a dedicated vaccination channel which would make it more convenient for them to come home to get jabbed.

Ms Sim also shared that since March 2020, MFA has helped bring home more than 450 Singaporeans stranded in Malaysia.

Follow The Straits Times' live coverage on the Ukraine crisis here.

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