I had been thinking about the judicial system in Singapore since I read the article below. In dishing out punishments, how often and how flexible is it in recognizing exceptional cases? Do the judges simply stick by the book regardless and just send the alleged to their gallows and doom just because they have committed certain crimes – without looking at the circumstances and context surrounding it?

If the authorities are afraid of people making use of loopholes, then how about the case in the article? If the authorities are not helping him and he doesn’t have a passport and money, did they really expect him to die on the streets? Or should he really just call home and try to get a ticket back to China? Caning him? I think it’s really a little over.

CHINA worker Han Xin Hui, 41, arrived in Singapore in October 2006 in a new suit, new leather shoes, and a suitcase full of work clothes.

But on Tuesday, he left wearing a ragged T-shirt and bermudas, hiding scars from four strokes of the cane he got while in prison here – a permanent reminder of his time in Singapore.

His budget flight to Guangzhou, followed by a train ride to his home in Hebei, brought his 18-month stay here to an end.

He told The Straits Times in Mandarin that he had been conned by labour agents, both in China and Singapore, who had promised him a job, but never delivered.

He said: ‘I’ll never think of Singapore again, I have such a bad impression.’

Some foreign workers from China, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are the targets of rogue agents who collect thousands of dollars from the workers in return for jobs in Singapore.

But when they arrive, not only is there no work for them, but local agents also take their cash and even their passports.

While no official data is available on the number of workers who get duped by agents, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), a welfare organisation which helps foreign workers, said that for the past year, they have seen at least one case every three months.

Mr Han’s is the most recent case that Home helped resolve.

His troubles started when an acquaintance introduced him to an employment agent in Beijing.

The agent said he could earn 7,000 yuan (S$1,360) monthly as a lorry driver in Singapore – if he paid the 28,000-yuan agent’s fee.

Tempted, he gave up his 2,500- yuan-a-month job as a lorry driver and emptied out his savings to move to Singapore, leaving behind his wife and two sons, now aged 20 and 21.

He was told to head to an address in Geylang when he arrived in Singapore and wait for a call from a local agent.

The call came a day after he landed. Mr Han met the man claiming to be his Singapore agent, who immediately demanded another 8,000 yuan. He also took Mr Han’s return air-ticket and passport for safe-keeping.

Mr Han never heard from the man again. His mobile number was also no longer in use.

Calls to the agent back in China also reached a dead end.

Stranded in Singapore with no work, no money and no passport, Mr Han, who was on a tourist pass, took up random construction jobs. He approached Home for help, but continued to work illegally.

‘I knew I wasn’t supposed to work. But I had no choice.’

After he earned some money, he searched for another agent, hoping to get a proper work permit and a legal job.

Again, he says, he was cheated.

He paid the agent $500, and was told to return two weeks later. But six weeks later, there was still no job.

With help, he managed to go after the agency and had his day in court. He won his case, but still ended up with nothing.

The agency in Lavender had closed down and he was told he would have to spend more money to enforce the judgment.

‘I won the case but I had to pay money? Where’s the logic? I was fighting in court, because I had no money,’ Mr Han said.

Again he continued to work illegally.

In August last year, he was caught for overstaying when police raided the flat he was sharing in Changi with seven other foreign workers.

His sentence: one month in jail and four strokes of the cane.

When he was released in October last year, he applied for a new passport. Around this time, he also approached Home again for help. The volunteer group then raised the money for his flight back to China.

Mr Han was on a 6.25am flight on Monday, but to avoid paying for an early morning taxi, he was at the airport by 11pm the night before.

‘Not everybody here is bad. I’ll get my son to come back and thank people here who have helped me,’ he said. ‘But I’m never coming back here in my life. Never.’


Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 11th May 2008 dated 2nd May 2008

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