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Mon, Nov 08, 2010
The New Paper
I served NS, but now I'm Stateless

By Gan Ling Kai

HAVING served his National Service (NS) and lived here most of his life, he thought he was a true-blue Singaporean.

Mr Ogawa Ryuju, 22, who has been a permanent resident since he was a minor, had received his pink IC while he was in the army, in 2008, and was issued a Singapore passport.

He had also renounced his Japanese citizenship in July this year.

But he was in for a rude shock.

Two months after he received his National Service (reservist) posting as a rifleman in August, Mr Ogawa went to renew his passport at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) office because he wanted to go to Hong Kong for a holiday.

Mr Ogawa, who was born in Japan to a Singaporean mother and Japanese father, was told by an ICA officer that he was no longer a Singaporean.

The reason: Despite having a pink IC, he had to complete the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty before he turned 22.

The formal procedure is usually held at the ICA headquarters and the person has to produce documents showing he has renounced his previous citizenship, sign a form to pledge his allegiance to Singapore and recite the national pledge before the commissioner of oaths.

Mr Ogawa claims he did not know he had to do this before he turned 22.

"I was shocked when they told me that I am no longer a Singapore citizen," he said. "How can that be? I have even been notified of my reservist unit.How can I not be a Singaporean?"

He added: "My mum has taken care of me all by herself for more than 20 years. Her family is here, and this is our home. I want to remain here to repay her kindness.

Mr Ogawa Ryuju and his mother hope for another chance.

"It's so strange. I was (featured) in a newspaper for serving in the army. But now I have also given up my Japanese citizenship. Where can I go?"

Enlisted

He had enlisted for National Service in 2007, and was featured in a Lianhe Zaobao article on March 7 because he was special - "a Japanese soldier within the Singapore army".

Mr Ogawa was given Singapore citizenship when he was19, in June 2008,and he completed his full-time NS in June last year.

Together with a pink IC, he was given a letter that explained to him that he has to renounce his Japanese citizenship at the age of 21 should he want to confirm his status as a Singapore citizen.

A one-year grace period to do that would be given to him until he turned 22.

Dual citizenship is not allowed here.

Mr Ogawa admitted he didn't read the letter which came with his pink IC properly, especially the part about when to take the Oath.

"I didn't realise how serious the consequences would be to miss the deadline. But it is not as if I had done nothing about the matter," said Mr Ogawa.

Mr Ogawa, who turned 22 on Aug 31, said his woes resulted from a "confusion".

He said he had renounced his Japanese citizenship at the Embassy of Japan on July 15. The embassy gave him a letter stating that the renunciation is being processed.

Mr Ogawa thought he would be able to take the Oath only after the renunciation had been completed.

So he did not proceed to take the Oath.

Mr Ogawa said an ICA officer had told him he could have taken the Oath with the "renunciation in process" letter from the Japanese embassy.

But Mr Ogawa claimed he was told this only after he had lost his Singapore citizenship.

He also said the officer told him that two reminder letters were sent by ICA to his home, reminding him to take the Oath. The first was sent on Aug 31 last year when he turned 21, and the second was sent via registered mail six months later.

But Mr Ogawa claimed he did not receive these.

Mr Ogawa runs a balloon sculpting business with his mother,who is a Singapore-born citizen.

He told The New Paper on Thursday: "My friends and family are here."

Now that he has renounced his Japanese citizenship, Mr Ogawa is technically stateless.

"I served in the army, but now, I have no country to call my own," he said.

His 54-year-old mum, Ms Chan Mee Lee, who is divorced from his father, said: "Japan is not a third world country. But he gave up his Japanese citizenship because he wants to grow his roots here.

"Why can't (ICA) just give him another date to say the Oath?"

Upset by what has happened, Mr Ogawa wrote about his problems on Facebook in early October.

He also described his difficult childhood.

"At the age of 10, with a third-grade Japanese education, and no understanding of written English, I (returned to Singapore) and was enrolled in a school here in Primary 2, and as you might have guessed it, school life wasn't all peaches.

"Not only was I older than everyone else in class, I was still considered an outsider due to my paternal heritage, so the taunting and bullying continues... though it was tough,my mom and I had a blast, just the two of us."

In response to Mr Ogawa's posting, "Ling Hong Yao" commented: "We will make it public and do a petition if it boils down to this! We are behind you, Ogawa!"

"Darwin Sim" wrote: "Waaa! How come liddat? Not Singaporean then serve NS for what? Part-time job meh?"(sic)

Mr Ogawa's balloon sculpture business gets 20 jobs a month, organising parties and company functions, and he and Ms Chan hire several part-timers to help them.

She said: "We contribute to the economy here in our own little way,why can't my son live here?"

Mr Ogawa had hoped to find a wife and start his own family here someday, but he said: "I just feel lost now."

He said he had also spoken to Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar GRC, Mr Heng Chee How, who wrote a letter to the director of ICA on Oct 18, seeking assistance on the matter.

Mr Ogawa is awaiting the outcome of his appeal.

2 letters sent on taking Oath

THE Immigration and Checkpoints Authority told The New Paper it does not comment on any specific case.

But a spokesman did describe what typically takes place when a minor (with a parent who is a Singaporean) is granted Singapore citizenship by registration.

In such scenarios, the minor and his parents are informed of the need for the minor to take the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty (ORAL) between the age of 21 and 22.

This information is printed on the Singapore citizenship certificate that is issued to the new minor Singapore citizen.

The spokesman added: "ICA will also send two letters to the person on the need to take the ORAL."

The first reminder letter is sent to the registered address of the person when he turns 21 and the second is sent six months later if he has not acted on the first.

If he fails to take the ORAL before his 22nd birthday, he ceases to be a Singapore citizen.

Last year, The New Paper also reported on how a Mr Vadiveloo Rajamuthi, an odd-job man in his 30s, lost his Singapore citizenship in 2003.

That was also because the Malaysian-born man had failed to take the ORAL after turning 21, and his mother had forgotten to remind him about it.

As a result, for several years since 2003, Mr Vadiveloo had to live here with a Special Pass from the ICA, which was renewed annually.

We were unable to contact Mr Vadiveloo to check if his multiple appeals to get back his Singapore citizenship had been approved.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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