SINGAPORE: An elderly man who has lived in Singapore for over 70 years is facing severe hardship as he navigates life without citizenship, being classified as stateless.
Born in Taiping, Perak in 1947, Mr Wu (transliterated from Mandarin) moved to Singapore at the age of five with his parents. He went to school at the age of 9, but his parents asked him to drop out of school three years later to go to work and earn money for the family. Mr Wu’s difficulties began at the age of 25 when his identity document was confiscated by Malaysian customs officers, leading to the loss of his Malaysian citizenship. Despite having spent most of his life in Singapore, he has been unable to secure Singapore citizenship, having faced rejection twice due to a lack of proficiency in English and Malay during his earlier attempts at 13 and 20 years old.
Now in his mid-70s, Mr Wu ekes out a living selling tissue packets near Paya Lebar MRT station. His daily income fluctuates between $30 and $100, and he lives alone in a single room in Aljunied, paying a monthly rent of $350. His belongings are contained in a trolley, a testament to the transient nature of his life.
The elderly man’s personal life is also marked by tragedy and isolation. After divorcing his first wife and losing contact with her, Mr Wu’s longtime girlfriend passed away from cancer a few years ago. Financial disputes severed ties with his two younger sisters after the death of his parents.
Despite obtaining a special pass and $410 in monthly assistance at the end of last year, Mr Wu faces an uphill battle against rising prices, limiting his ability to afford even basic necessities. He admitted to Channel 8 news that he only eats one meal daily, alternating between rice and porridge.
His health concerns escalated after a car accident in March, and recently, his right eye became red and swollen, with tears constantly streaming. A doctor recommended a hospital visit, but Mr Wu, unable to bear the medical expenses, has decided to just keep enduring the pain.
Channel 8 news reports that in February 2021, Home Affairs and Law Minister Shanmugam disclosed that as of Nov 30, 2020, there were 1,109 stateless persons in Singapore, with 76 per cent being permanent residents enjoying various benefits. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority evaluates citizenship and permanent residence applications based on factors such as length of stay, family situation, financial contribution, academic qualifications, age, and family ties with Singaporeans.
Despite the complexities of statelessness, Mr Wu remains resigned about his future, expressing a lack of plans to reapply for citizenship and a reluctance to seek medical treatment unless absolutely necessary. He said, “If I can’t sell tissues and have no money, then I can only wait to die.”