Finally where she belongs

Finally where she belongs
Previously stateless, Cindy Lim, 11, received her citizenship certificate from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority on July 13, 2017, officially making her a Singaporean. Photo: Wong Pei Ting
Born in Singapore, 11-year-old Cindy Lim Geok Lian was without a state until last week
Published: 5:20 PM, July 15, 2017
Updated: 9:51 AM, July 17, 2017

SINGAPORE — While her classmates were worrying about their impending Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), Cindy Lim Geok Lian was fretting over whether her mother could pay the monthly rental for their room and her school fees.

But all these worries became a thing of the past last Thursday (July 13) when the 11-year-old stateless girl finally collected her citizenship certificate at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and became a citizen.

“Now I’m a Singaporean and I’m very proud of it,” the elated girl told TODAY on Thursday, proudly brandishing her certificate. “I have always been proud of Singapore since I was young, because I thought I was Singaporean.” But she was not.

Cindy was one of the stateless individuals featured by TODAY last year. There are over 1,000 stateless people living in limbo here due to their highly unusual and complicated legal status.

Born at Mount Alvernia Hospital in Singapore, the newborn became stateless because she has an Indonesian mother on a long-term pass and a stateless father. Her father became stateless because after renouncing his Malaysian citizenship, he also refused to serve National Service when he got the enlistment call at 19, as he was already a father to two children, a boy and a girl, by then.

As a Singaporean, instead of having to pay S$130 for her monthly school fees, Cindy’s education at Yishun Primary School will be free. She will also be eligible for financial assistance from the Education Ministry as she comes from a low-income family.

And rather than having to share a rental room with her mum, they are now eligible to rent a flat from the Government under the Public Rental Scheme, and Cindy could finally get a room of her own.

It took her five applications to become a Singaporean. Her success, however, was bitter-sweet because the deal-clincher was Cindy’s first application with the help of her Singaporean step-brother and guardian, Mr Lim Boon Leong, the eldest son from her father’s first marriage with a Singaporean.

Her father Lim Thian Hock had died of diabetes at 63 in 2015. She was previously told that her dad had to die for her to stand a “better chance”. 

“The next time I visit my dad at the Mandai Columbarium, I will tell him that I finally got my citizenship — just like what he wanted for me,” Cindy told TODAY.

As she is still a minor, she will have to take an oath of renunciation, allegiance and loyalty — meant for all new citizens — between Sept 2, 2026, and Sept 1, 2027, within a year after she turns 21. If she fails to do so, she will lose her Singapore citizenship.

Although she feels no different from before, she knows her life will be quite different now. The student leader, who scored excellent grades, was previously not allowed to raise the national flag or lead her school in singing the National Anthem and saying the pledge.

Some of her schoolmates even made fun of her. “Some of them said I shouldn’t hang out with you because you are not a Singaporean … Some even said I could be a terrorist and that they shouldn’t trust me too easily … But my best friend thinks that is ridiculous,” said Cindy, adding that she mostly brushed those comments aside.

“My plans now are just to study hard, get good grades for PSLE,” she told TODAY.

After being such a “well-known” figure in her primary school due to her stateless status, Cindy said: “Secondary School life will be a new life … I guess it will be fun, happy, and I won’t feel so left out like last time.”