Concerns raised over racism and xenophobia

Concerns raised over racism and xenophobia
Activist Constance Singam.

Twelve civil society groups and 20 individuals, including activists Constance Singam and Vincent Wijeysingha, have raised concerns about "the recent surge of racism and xenophobia in Singapore", in the first such call here.

Groups including the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) and Maruah said in a statement yesterday that the rise in such sentiments had "alarmed" them.

"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," they said.

Ordinary people have been threatened in public with nationalist or anti-foreigner language.

"They threaten the human rights of all (especially migrants) and the health of our political conversation," they said.

The statement came a day after a Philippine Independence Day celebration scheduled for June 8 was cancelled after its choice of venue - Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza in Orchard - was attacked by some netizens here, sparking concerns about public safety and security.

About 30 per cent of Singapore's 5.4 million people are foreigners. In a Institute of Policy Studies poll earlier this year, about one in three Singapore residents say nationality-based prejudice is more widespread now.

Yesterday, Ms Jolene Tan from Aware expressed concern about the violent language used by some over the Filipino celebrations. This included Tweets such as 'put on your number 4s', which refers to army uniforms, and Facebook posts that made a peaceful community celebration to be war, she said.

The groups said in the statement that focusing on immigrants would cause "an unsafe and divisive society" and not solve the root cause of economic frustrations felt by many Singaporeans. Instead, the key to deal with these is to "amend the economic policies and structures that cause worsening economic inequality and marginalisation".

These policies were not "instituted by migrants and will not automatically disappear if the migrant population decreases".

Such anti-foreigner sentiments also stifle constructive political discussion because symbols such as pink identity cards or National Service then become "sacred emblems of belonging and entitlement", which prevents them from being discussed openly, they said.

The statement was also signed by groups such as Transient Workers Count Too and Think Centre and individuals like former Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong and former detainee Teo Soh Lung.

Undergraduate Grace Wong, 20, welcomed the statement but said the groups "should also outline what they intend to do to help foster better understanding and integration".

Maruah president Braema Mathi suggested in turn that training programmes be started in schools and workplaces to equip people with the skills to deal with the diversity of cultures.

Indian national Raja Maha, 39, who has worked here as a technician for six years, said: "When I take the train to work, most locals are smiling and welcoming and I am happy working here. I hope things won't change."

This article was first published on May 29, 2014.
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