The One Where I Was Detained and Fingerprinted Upon Arrival in Singapore

singapore

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This happened a long time ago — 2006, to be exact — and I actually rarely think about it, so it’s not something that has been traumatic or anything like that. When I do remember it, though, it seems a bit unfair, to say the least. The plus side is that it makes a good travel story, something I can tell my grandkids someday (and maybe embellish! I shall tell them I was handcuffed and made to drink Veritaserum).

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Related posts:

Filipina offloaded from flight at NAIA 3 for not bringing her grandfather’s birth certificate? Here’s what probably happened — and how you can stop it from happening to you

Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs

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Here’s the real story:

A friend and I were traveling to Singapore to visit another friend. It was my first time to travel without my family, and I’d paid for the plane tickets myself (another first), so I was rather excited about the trip. The flight went off without a hitch, but when we arrived in Singapore and cleared Immigration (or tried to), we were asked to step aside and follow the Immigration officer.

Without explanation, we were led to a room where a few other travelers were already seated. Our fingerprints were taken; we were asked a few questions (though nothing so dramatic as being slapped in the face and accused of being a spy. Now that would have been a capital travel story). After an hour or so, we were told we were free to go.

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And then we went to see a meerkat.
And then we went to see a meerkat.

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Why were we detained in the first place? I don’t know. They never told us. Best I can figure out, we were both young, single, female, and Filipina — apparently, a “red flag” combination. Never mind that we had return tickets. (This was before the era of budget airlines and airfare wasn’t cheap, so if we were planning to stay illegally in Singapore, we’d hardly splurge on a ticket back home that we had no plans of using, would we?) Never mind that my friend had a good, stable job back home; never mind that I was in the middle of med school, and that I’d traveled to other countries (including Singapore) before. We just happened to fit a certain profile.

I realize that countries have a right — a duty, even — to protect their own interests, and part of that is making sure that the people who enter their territory are who they say they are and will only be doing what they say they will be doing. I understand the need to take care of one’s own people first. Still, on a personal level, there’s something inherently traumatic about being profiled, about being made to prove one’s innocence. How do you prove the absence of guilt? In a way, I wish there was such a thing as Veritaserum, so innocent travelers such as myself can just drink the necessary dose, answer the necessary questions, and go our merry way.

Oh, well. I shall tell my grandchildren I was handcuffed and made to drink Veritaserum, and when I never changed my story after being asked the same question 409 times, I was led to a secret basement where a guy in a suit stepped out of the shadows and said:

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Welcome to Level 7
Honestly just a shameless excuse to insert a Clark Gregg / Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reference

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Beat that for a good travel yarn. 😉

 

The One Where I Was Detained and Fingerprinted Upon Arrival in Singapore
Created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

 


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Anti-offloading tips from an Immigration officer

 

 



29 thoughts on “The One Where I Was Detained and Fingerprinted Upon Arrival in Singapore”

      • No I never had any experience like that and I hope I never do I would freak out! In fact the last time I went through customs on the start of a trip(not including Canada which I drive through often) was in the Dublin airport, the guy said “you American or Irish?” I said “American” and he waved me through without checking my passport. Got to Glasgow’s airport and a nice police officer we chatted with(and realized we didn’t have stamps for entering Europe) said “You’re here illegally! Have a great time!” and that was it.

  • Some years after 9/11, my then-wife and I travelled to the United States (we were regular visitors). At immigration at LAX, she was led away to an area where a lot of other travellers were corralled and grilled for some hours by a succession of earnest Homeland Security officials. Nobody said why she was being detained but, eventually, one official took pity of her (luckily I was able to stay with her) and revealed the red flags had gone up because her passport number didn’t align with the number supplied by the airline (Virgin Australia). It seems an inexperienced Virgin check-in attendant had entered her frequent flyer number in the area designated for her passport number. After about three hours, we were allowed to leave. The area we were in held quite a number of increasingly desperate-looking individuals; I’m not sure too many of them eventually made it onto US soil.

    • Wow. It’s crazy how you can suffer from someone else’s mistake. But it looks like you were [relatively] lucky. As was I.

      It’s such a tricky issue, isn’t it? How far are you allowed to trample on the rights of the innocent in order to discover the guilty?

  • How funny I was detained in Narita airport too but that was entirely my fault. Before I became a U.S. citizen, my boyfriend then (now my hubby) told me that I didn’t need a visa to enter Japan. So I went and asked me to leave ASAP as soon as they saw I had no visa. I begged to let me stay one night so I can fly to Guam to get a visa and fortunately, I was working for Delta airlines then and was able to fly with JAL with a discount..

  • Well, the fact that racial profiling is used far and large by police and immigration authorities isn’t a mistery, unfortunately. I have loads of examples to call: how I and a busload of elderly English tourists breezed through immigration at Vancouver airport last month, all in the time it took an officer to process a group of four Chinese; or how, as I’ve seen in my time as a ground services agent at Heathrow airport, Arab/Pakistani passengers formed the bulk of so-called “selectees”, subject to additional checks, before embarking on a US-bound plane. Is it humanly right? I don’t think so. Is it understandable? Well… I wish we had the veritaserum, honestly.

    • As a member of a nationality that is often profiled, I’ll go ahead and say it for you — it’s understandable. 🙂 On a personal level, it sucks, it’s unfair. But from the security/law enforcement point of view, it’s probably — though I hate to say this — statistics. A question of who is more likely to do what. In a perfect world there would be no terrorism or racism or immigration problems; I’d settle for a bit more courtesy. It would be nice if immigration authorities would remember that majority of the people they’re questioning are innocent and probably had to work extra hard for the chance to travel.

      The funny thing is, I wouldn’t mind drinking veritaserum but the human rights groups would be up in arms about something like that for sure!

  • I always brace myself when I go through immigration. On the flip side, when I was travelling in Greece with female Muslim colleagues/friends of different nationalities, they got more scrutiny in the airport than us Filipinos just because they were wearing their hijab (traditional head covering). I felt really bad that security went through their things with a fine-toothed comb while we (the Pinoy bunch) were allowed to move on.

  • Honestly, I won’t mind something like this, especially in Singapore, a first world country. What is more annoying enough to make my blood boil are the “laglag bala” scam and the imbeciles working at Bureau of Immigration.I hate racial profiling, but with what they are doing, it made me racist towards those Filipinos working in NAIA. If they have a certain profile, well I do too: Filipino working in NAIA = corrupt, dishonest extortionists, no exceptions.

    • I’m sure there are exceptions, but since we don’t know who the good guys and the bad guys are, it’s really just better to trust no one. Which is sad.

  • im going thailand this friday .. it was my friend who will shoulder all actually even for my fare and my hotel reservation sya nagkuha ang gastos.. enough na po ba ang kanyang invitation?and since sinend lng nya from email pina sealed q nlng po.. and im ready na with my leave approval from work din po.is there a big chance po ba na ma offload aq?

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