“Fundamentally, the role of the Singapore High Commission in KL has not changed. Our mission remains to assist Singaporeans in Malaysia and to advance bilateral relations between our two countries,” said Mr Menon.
“However, with COVID-19, we have had to adapt to the changing needs of Singaporeans in Malaysia amid the restrictions caused by the pandemic. Over the past year and a half, we have seen an increase in requests from Singaporeans for consular services,” he added.
Mr Faizal, who specialises in handling consular requests, told CNA that his team saw a “very sharp increase” in queries for consular assistance since the start of the MCO in March last year.
At its peak, the team received around 1,000 calls a month for consular services, up from around 150 calls per month before COVID-19. These calls included requests for consular assistance and immigration-related queries, including travel application procedures, and the extension of visit passes in Malaysia.
“In mid-2020, we were receiving close to 100 calls a day. For a relatively small team … we had to work in overdrive for most of the year,” said Mr Faizal.
With the borders shut, the team was also called upon to aid with repatriation, helping Singaporeans stranded in Malaysia return home. Their efforts would help reunite families – children with parents, husband and wives, as well as siblings who were separated by border closures.
As there was no public transport allowed across the Causeway, the diplomats had to help hire buses, obtain the right approvals from the specific agencies and ensure that health protocols were adhered to.
Singapore’s Consul-General in JB Jeevan Singh told CNA that throughout 2020, his team oversaw the repatriation of close to 400 Singaporeans, the majority of whom were elderly, minors or had mobility issues.
The team at the Consulate-General facilitated the travel arrangements of between two and four people weekly, and also mounted six “larger scale” repatriations of up to 45 Singaporeans at a time.
“These were challenging operations given the public health situation and the small team we have here in Johor,” said Mr Singh.