Shanmugam reassures law-abiding foreign workers they have nothing to fear

Foreign workers in Singapore have nothing to fear as long as they keep to the law, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

But if they dabble in extremist activities, they should "have no doubts" that the authorities will come down hard on them.

Just three days after news broke that the Internal Security Department had arrested 27 radicalised Bangladeshi construction workers, Mr Shanmugam said at a lunch for other workers from Bangladesh that Singapore relies on their work and appreciates them.

They would not get into trouble if they do not engage in politics, violence or illegal activities. "But if you engage in any of that, even if you intend to do it outside of Singapore, we will have no choice but to act against you," he said at the Khadijah Mosque in Geylang.

On Wednesday, the Government announced the arrests late last year of the 27 Bangladeshis who were plotting to launch terror attacks in their home country. The group, which supports the armed radical ideology of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, had been meeting at various mosques island-wide since 2013.

Mr Shanmugam yesterday told reporters that many workers at the lunch expressed worry about how the arrests of their countrymen would affect them.

He said: "I assured them, just stick to what you are doing, keep to the law, the law protects you."

He also told them that local mosques will continue to welcome them, if they want to pray and learn about the "universal message" of peace and brotherhood.

He warned Singaporeans against seeing all followers of Islam as terrorists, stressing that there is no reason to view local Muslims or foreign workers in a negative light.

He said he was told at the lunch that some children had said to their Muslim schoolmates: "You are Muslim, you are trouble, you are wrong, your religion is bad."

"We need to educate the wider Singaporean public that that is wrong. We focus on terrorism, and we deal with it. We deal with it as a community. If we start going down this route, of tarring people of Islam as terrorists, Singapore will be in trouble," Mr Shanmugam said, warning against Islamophobia.

When asked if security on migrant workers would be tightened, he said the Government would do "whatever we think is necessary" to keep Singapore safe, "whether that involves migrant workers, or visitors, or our own community".

About 30 of the mosque's 1,000 Bangladeshi worshippers were at the thank-you lunch for them.

Religious Rehabilitation Group member Ustaz Mohamed Feisal Hassan thanked them for their contributions to the mosque. He warned them about Facebook posts and videos used by radical groups to incite anger and recruit members, and advised them to be wary of radical teachers and propaganda.

One of the workers, Mr Manir Hosain, 33, who has been in Singapore for more than 10 years, said he was very worried for his community when he heard news of the arrests.

"It is very difficult for us. When we go out or go to the mosque, people say, 'Hey, you are from Bangladesh, the photos (of the radicalised workers), look like you'," said the electrical company worker. "Islam is not about terrorists... Not every person with a beard is a terrorist."

He added: "We come to Singapore to earn money, not for terrorism, not for politics."

This article was first published on Jan 24, 2016.
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