We, the undersigned, are alarmed by the recent surge of racism and xenophobia in Singapore. They threaten the human rights of all (especially migrants) and the health of our political conversation.
The key to addressing the economic frustrations felt by many Singaporeans is to amend the economic policies and structures that cause worsening economic inequality and marginalisation. These inequitable policies were not instituted by migrants and will not automatically disappear if the migrant population decreases. We urge for the energies of civil society to be directed toward creating a fairer, more equal society for all, including universal labour rights and employment protections.
Focusing on immigrants does not contribute to these structural changes and instead creates an unsafe and divisive society. We see the widespread use of racist, aggressive and militarised rhetoric on social media, as well as a trend of blaming foreigners for social ills. Ordinary people have been threatened in public spaces with nationalist and/or anti-foreigner language. To identify “true blue Singaporeans”, people appeal to prejudices about race, class, skin colour, names, accent, language, and other markers of difference, creating an oppressive society where people constantly discriminate against one another. This supports various forms of discrimination, not just against non-Singaporeans but also among Singaporeans – for example, on the basis of gender, age, disability, class, ethnicity, descent and other characteristics.
This anti-foreigner approach also stifles constructive political discussion. Some elevate pink identity cards or National Service to sacred emblems of belonging and entitlement, which cannot then be discussed openly and inclusively.
Discussion of immigration policy does not take place in a vacuum. If we keep describing the presence of migrants as illegitimate and a threat to Singaporeans, this has inevitable effects on the treatment of migrants who are already in Singapore. We must conduct any discussion of state policy in a way that is fully mindful of those effects.
For years, Government policy and rhetoric have marginalised migrants and others, for instance by not giving domestic workers full and equal employment protections. Even though the Government’s policies have an inevitable impact on societal discrimination, each of us must be responsible for the impact of our own contributions to Singapore’s social climate and political conversation.
Civil society has a particular role to play in working to take care of the needs of minority groups such as migrants, rather than contributing to their marginalisation. We should work to promote not only robust political debate, but also the values of equality and universal human rights. Those values are the true animating force of our desire for social change, and they require us to unite in rejecting the politics of division, xenophobia and hate.
Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE)
Beyond the Border, Behind the Men
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME)
Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)
Chong Si Min
Farhan M. Idris
Siew Kum Hong
Alvin Tan Cheong Kheng
Teng Qian Xi
Teo Soh Lung
Mark Wong De Yi
Wong Pei Chi
June Yang Yajun
Yap Ching Wi