Repatriated without due process

Gita*, who comes from a rural village in India does not speak much English. But as the main breadwinner for her family, she decided to apply for a job as a domestic worker in Singapore. Gita worked for her Singapore employer for a year, but was not very happy. One day, according to Gita, her employer slapped her and twisted her arm. Gita told her employer that he had to stop this abusive behaviour, or else she would report him to MOM. A day later, he put her on a plane back to India.

Still in need of money, Gita decided to put her experience behind her and return to Singapore to work for another employer. She got her ‘In Principal Approval (IPA) from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and boarded the flight the Singapore. When she handed over her documents at customs, the Immigrations and Checkpoints Authority took her aside. Gita was handcuffed and arrested.

Gita struggled to understand what was happening to her. She was being accused of using her employer’s credit card without permission. The amount that she allegedly stole is unclear. Gita admits to having handled the card given to her by her employer to buy groceries, and some personal items. She insists that she had permission to do so, and that the money she spent for herself was deducted from her salary. It is Gita’s word against her employer’s.

Gita stayed in HOME’s shelter while investigations continued. Gita was not charged, but was this week instead issued with a ‘Letter of Warning’. The letter was written in English, and stated that investigations had been completed and that the police had decided that ‘a stern warning would be administered to [Gita] in lieu of prosecution.’ Gita was told to sign the letter. According to her, it was only translated into Tamil after she had signed it.

HOME has met many domestic workers and foreign workers whose work permits were revoked even though they have not been convicted for any wrongdoing but were issued a warning letter which they were unable to challenge. These workers are usually not allowed to return to Singapore to work. Gita was not given any information about the reasons for the warning letter or her options to appeal it.

Foreign workers’ entitlement to due judicial process has been the subject of discussion in the past. In the context of the Little India riots in 2013, the Ministry of Law stated “a foreign national who is subject to repatriation… has no right under our laws to challenge the repatriation order in court.” However, when such repatriation is based on evidence that is not independently tested by a court, and carries consequences similar to a criminal conviction (such as a ban on returning to Singapore to work), is it right that a worker who maintains her innocence would not be given the opportunity to defend herself?

Gita has less than a week to leave Singapore. As she has not been able to work and make any money in Singapore, HOME is raising the money for her ticket back to India.

To help HOME help Gita and people like her, please donate to our fund for repatriating migrant workers in distress here. Include the name ‘Gita’ in the comment field.

* Gita’s name has been changed to protect her privacy

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