There is a common idea that migrant workers are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime in Singapore. When, in 2008, some residents in the Serangoon Gardens area expressed their opposition to a dormitory for migrant workers being set up in the neighbourhood, statements were made that it would be unsafe for children to travel alone, that old people could not safely be left by themselves inside their homes and that women would be at risk of sexual assault.
‘Today’ journalist, Zul Othman, asked the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for figures on crime in Singapore according to residential status. Those figures had not been available before, but the police and MHA released them to Mr Othman. In 2007, out of 19,371 people arrested the year before, only 3,780 were foreigners. Singapore residents made up 73 per cent of the total population at that time and foreigners 27 per cent. The arrest rates per 100,000 population were 435 for Singapore residents and 286 per 100,000 for foreigners. Very significantly, the arrest rate for work permit holders alone was even lower, at 227 per 100,000 (1,644 were arrested). There was no breakdown by types of offence. (Zul Othman, ‘Unjustified Fears’, ‘Today’, 15th September 2008)
Migrant workers come to Singapore in the hope of earning money to support their families. They need money, but most want to obtain it by honest means. Most are acutely aware of the risks in taking part in illegal activities, and do not want to do anything that might lead to them being sent home, perhaps before they have even had a chance to repay the debts they were saddled with when they came over.
Plans for the dormitory were revised following the protests. A letter to residents said that many of the workers to be housed at the dormitory would be from the hospitality and health-care sectors. These workers largely come from China, Philippines and Malaysia, whereas Indian and Bangladeshi workers are concentrated in the construction and shipyard sectors.