Pandemic, earthquake, closed borders: Singaporean stranded in Europe brought home in multi-national effort
Trapped in Slovenia with no flight out, Singaporean journeys 12,000km across three countries before reaching home
With a pandemic, an earthquake, and closed borders all around him, he was left stranded in a foreign land.
Mr Nazrul Syahmi, 20, a Singaporean who is serving his national service with the Singapore Police Force, went backpacking in eastern Europe last month.
But when he tried to return home on March 17, he found himself alone in a closed airport in Slovenia, with no way out of the country.
His father, Mr Murad Md Taha, 54, a primary school teacher, had all but given up on his son returning anytime soon, having run out of ideas on how to bring him home.
Thankfully, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) stepped in, and after about 10 days of tireless effort by the ministry's officers, Mr Nazrul finally returned to Singapore last weekend.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Mr Murad said the past two weeks had been a roller coaster of emotions.
"I was so worried at one point because I ran out of ways to bring my son back," he said.
"I didn't know who else I could turn to for help until my friend helped contact the Singapore consulate."
Mr Nazrul left for his solo backpacking trip on Feb 26.
He went sightseeing in Poland, skiing in Slovakia, and exploring caves in Hungary, before ending up in Slovenia.
On March 17, the day he was to fly home, all air traffic in and out of the country became restricted.
Finding himself in a closed airport with no flight out, Mr Nazrul had no choice but to extend his stay at a hostel there.
He contacted the MFA for help the next day and he was told to try to get to an airport in Zagreb, Croatia, about 30km away from the Slovenian border.
For four days, from March 19 to 22, Mr Nazrul tried hiring taxis to get there but was repeatedly rejected by cabbies due to border restrictions.
To make matters worse, a 5.5-magnitude earthquake rocked Zagreb on the morning of March 22, the strongest felt in Croatia since 1880.
All public transport services to the city were immediately suspended.
With no other route home, all Mr Nazrul could do was leave his fate in the hands of the MFA officers.
Behind the scenes, the officers worked tirelessly to find a way to bring him home.
Ms Foo Chi Hsia, the Singapore High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, contacted her counterparts and the authorities in Slovenia, the UK and Croatia.
Desperate to bring his son home, Mr Murad also went to see his MP for Sembawang GRC, Mr Amrin Amin, for help, and was reassured that the case would be looked into.
Last Thursday, the MFA officers came up with a plan to bring him home, in a multi-national coordinated effort.
At 2.30am that day, Mr Nazrul began his 12,000km journey from Slovenia to Vienna, through to Amsterdam and then on to London, before returning home to Singapore. Along the way he was assisted by the Singapore Consulate in Austria and the British Embassy. They helped arrange his passage, picking him up from place to place through the borders.
Mr Murad recalled his son calling him just before boarding the flight home from London.
"It was unbelievable that my son was coming home," he said.
"I couldn't believe that all these people were helping us, and I am so grateful to all of them, especially ex-Nominated MP, Mr Calvin Cheng, who helped contact Ms Foo for help."
Mr Nazrul landed in Singapore on Saturday and is serving a two-week stay-home notice.
Mr Amrin lauded the MFA team on Facebook yesterday.
"Nazrul shared with me that MFA officials are still checking on him till today," he said.
"That is dedication and commitment, serving beyond the call of duty. And to me, that is what makes Singapore so exceptional. Our first-rate public service is always there, always caring for Singaporeans, especially now."
Mr Murad advised others whose loved ones may still be stranded overseas to reach out to the MFA for help. "Especially for parents, these are challenging times if your child is stuck in a foreign land," he said.
3 new clusters identified
Three new Covid-19 clusters were identified by the Ministry of Health yesterday, with 35 more infections in Singapore.
The new local clusters are a foreign worker dormitory at 2 Seletar North Link, the serviced apartment block Wilby Residences in Wilby Road in Bukit Timah, and the bar Hero's at 69 Circular Road in Boat Quay.
Four cases are linked to the foreign worker dormitory owned by S11 Capital Investments, seven are linked to the serviced apartment block and five are linked to the bar.