Four years ago today (December 12), a group of 40 refugees, suspected to be Rohingyas, landed on Singapore’s shores, but were turned away.
They were eventually accepted by Malaysia, but it was an episode that triggered much thought and discussion among Singaporeans.
Singapore has a long-standing policy of saying “no” to refugees or people seeking political asylum, chiefly because we are so small and have limited space to accommodate them.
But one can’t help but wonder: what would you do, if a refugee came into your home seeking protection, help — perhaps just a meal and a place to sleep?
A short film by local filmmaker Kirsten Tan explores this, creating an imagined scenario set on Pulau Ubin.
Here’s what happens in brief, in Dahdi (a word that means “granny”):
It’s just another day in December on Pulau Ubin. A police coast guard van drives up and stops an aunty on a bicycle.
One of the officers inside hands her his name card, asking her to call him if she sees any unfamiliar faces. She nods.
The aunty goes home and about her regular day — praying:
And playing with Lulu, her pet African grey parrot:
But what’s this… an intruder?
She’s stealing items at random from her kitchen cabinet!
The aunty confronts her; she backs away in shock. A young girl.
She dutifully calls the police, as she was instructed to previously:
But there’s a moment where she returns to find her, albeit eating her meal —
And it’s almost like a thought bubble pops up saying, “Well, she’s just a little girl who’s hungry. Who knows when her last meal was?”
Aunty’s maternal instincts kick in, and she prepares a hot drink for her:
And they even bond over Lulu, even though she doesn’t say a word, and probably doesn’t understand the questions Aunty is asking her either:
Along comes Aunty’s friend, who tries to speak to her…
But as Aunty predicted, she gets scared and runs to hide behind her:
Uncle warns Aunty that if she hands her over to the police, there’s no way of knowing she’ll be reunited with her family.
The dilemma, though:
Uncle departs, promising to revisit the situation with her, but while urging Aunty to let her stay on and not hand her to the police:
We’ll let you watch the film to see what happens after this, and we must admit, it’s a thought-provoking one:
It is a human trait to be hospitable to people in need, but our land space and resources are also limited — what, then, should we do? What should Singapore do?
All questions worth contemplating. What would you do?
Top photo: Screenshot from film