Lim was born in Singapore 33 years ago and served in the nation's military for two years. Lim's parents were not married when he was born. It meant Lim did not automatically qualify for citizenship. "The government needs to overcome discriminative practice by recognising as citizens children born of Singapore citizen and foreign parent [regardless of their marital status]". Think Centre
HE is an ex-heroin junkie who has spent too much time in jail for a society that does not easily forgive crime. He has virtually no education and his thin Chinese frame merges easily into Singapore's crowded malls.
Yet Barnabas Lim is emerging as an unlikely focus of public sympathy and respect here as he struggles against Singapore's conservative government for a basic right -- citizenship.
Lim was born in Singapore 33 years ago, has lived his entire life in the tiny city-state and even served in the nation's military for two years.
He works full-time at a car-grooming company, attends church regularly and intends to marry a Singaporean woman next year.
But according to the Singapore government, Lim still does not deserve citizenship.
Instead he is regarded as a "permanent resident", which makes him a stateless citizen without many of the basic privileges such as a passport and financial benefits that are given to virtually all other Singaporeans.
In an interview with AFP, Lim says authorities did not give exact reasons as to why they rejected his two applications for citizenship, lodged in 1997 and last year.
"I am born and bred in Singapore. I did national service. I don't understand," Lim says.
But his complicated past provides all the answers, and a few insights into the government's unyielding trait of putting the nation's interests above the individual's.
Lim's parents were not married when he was born. Giving birth out of wedlock is still regarded unfavourably in this conservative society and it meant Lim did not automatically qualify for citizenship.
Compounding the problem, Lim's Singaporean father spent most of his son's early childhood in jail for being a gang member and his mother was also officially just a permanent resident.
Lim says his mother was also born in Singapore but failed to gain citizenship when the nation became independent in 1965.
"At the time of independence, you had to have a birth certificate to register for citizenship. Her relatives lost it," Lim says.
Lim quit school at age 12 after taking up glue-sniffing. His habit quickly progressed to cannabis and, after two years of national service from the age of 18, eventually heroin.
Lim spent much of the 1990s trying to hold down a job as a hairdresser but instead mostly tangled with authorities. A two-year jail sentence for heroin possession was his harshest punishment.
But in 1999 Lim became a born-again Christian and, after an initial tough period of fighting his habit, says he has since been drug-free.
Lim largely accepted his fate as a stateless citizen in Singapore after his initial rejection in 1997.
But he applied again last year after flying to Qatar to start a job as an event coordinator he had lined up through friends.
"I got turned back at the airport. They didn't allow me to go in because I was not holding a national passport," he says.
With few answers from the government, Lim wrote a letter to the biggest selling newspaper in Singapore, the Straits Times, on September 27 this year.
"I am not a foreigner applying to become a citizen, but a true-blue Singaporean, born and bred here. Why am I denied the privilege of being a Singapore citizen," Lim wrote, while admitting to his criminal past.
Lim's plight has touched a nerve in Singapore's society, which is often regarded as having been conditioned to routinely obey the People's Action Party that has ruled the country since independence.
"Take heart that there are Singaporeans who do feel that you belong here," one woman wrote in the Straits Times, reflecting the views of many who have filled the letters pages of the daily and other newspapers.
"Mr Lim has, I feel, more than earned the right to citizenship, and the intransigence of our immigration authorities to see the broader picture only serves to impede the efforts made to bond us as a nation," wrote another.
"Deserving folks like him, whatever their stripes, who call Singapore home should not be left out on a limb."
The Singapore government responded to the public debate in a letter to the Straits Times that said: "Being born and having grown up in Singapore does not automatically entitle a person to Singapore citizenship".
It said factors taken into consideration when determining citizenship included an applicant's good conduct record, parents' marriage status and "other compassionate factors".
THINK CENTRE ADVOCATES FOR CHILDREN'S RIGHTS
Think Centre appreciates Singapore's accession to the Convention on the Rights of the child in 1995. "The government needs to overcome discriminative practice by recognising as citizens children born of Singapore citizen and foreign parent [regardless of their marital status]".
Sources and Relevant Links:
Agence France Presse Born and bred in Singapore 2 November 2003
Think Centre Children's Rights Forum