Kiwi teenager forced to do Singaporean national service or risk jail time and fines

Brandon Smith, 18, said if he returned to Singapore to complete his national service he would be treated as an outsider.

Brandon Smith, 18, said if he returned to Singapore to complete his national service he would be treated as an outsider.

A New Zealand teenager born in Singapore has been threatened with jail time and hefty fines unless he returns to the Asian nation to complete two years of national service in the army.

Brandon Smith,19, moved to Dunedin with his family when he was eight years old and holds dual citizenship with New Zealand and Singapore.

But Singaporean authorities are demanding he report for a pre-service medical or face two years in jail, or a S$10,000 (NZ$10,780) fine. 

Brandon with his mother Cindy, who was born in Singapore, and his NZ-born father Shane.

Brandon with his mother Cindy, who was born in Singapore, and his NZ-born father Shane.

Brandon said spending two years doing national service would be difficult and pointless. 

"I don't see the point of it, really. It's sort of a waste of time to go there and just come back anyway," he said. 

Brandon said he does not speak Chinese, and as a New Zealand citizen he would be treated as an outsider. 

After an initial three-month training period in which service personnel are housed and fed, they are then expected to find their own accommodation. 

Although they receive a small monthly payment, it would not be enough to cover rent and food, and he would not want to impose on family, he said. 

Under Singaporean law, Brandon cannot relinquish his citizenship until he is 21 years old.

An application to defer his national service until the age of 21 has been declined on numerous occasions, despite the Singaporean authorities granting his younger brother Kristen a deferment. 

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His father, Shane Smith, said after a long battle with bureaucrats in Singapore they have run out of options.

"Obviously for Brandon, it's not what we want. If he doesn't go back to Singapore to serve his NS, then he can never enter Singapore because he runs the risk of being arrested," said Shane.

Shane, a New Zealand-born Kiwi, served in the New Zealand Air Force and married Brandon's mother Cindy , who was born in Singapore but is a permanent resident in New Zealand. 

Shane has been corresponding with Singaporean MPs and bureaucrats for years in a desperate bid to help his son avoid conscription. 

"Absolutely no one would accommodate us. It was always the same answer; 'we regret to inform you that Brandon has to serve National Service'," he said.

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said in September last year she appealed to Minister for Foreign Affairs Murray McCully in a letter to help the family. 

"We have a 19-year-old who has left school with his life in front of him, he considers himself a New Zealand citizen and has no identification with Singapore and yet he is expected to do a national service," she said.

"I think it's a really good case for New Zealand to be sticking up for its citizens."

In a statement released on Saturday, McCully apologised for the late response to Curran's letter and said he had received it shortly before he took time off work to have major surgery to remove a tumour.

He said that he intended to take the matter up.

"While the Singapore Government is responsible for determining their own citizenship policies, I have considerable sympathy for the situation this family has found themselves in," he said.

 - Sunday Star Times


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