[Singapore] Open Space #1: Building a Better Home for Our Migrant Friends
The Covid-19 pandemic has opened another layer of inequality between Singaporeans and migrant workers in the country. Foreign laborers have contributed to almost 95 percent of the total infections in Singapore, in which clusters of new infection sprung from dormitories that house more than 300,000 migrants. The plight of foreign workers during the Covid-19 pandemic is only a small part of the daily discrimination and exclusion that they have to face in Singapore. Research in 2015 showed that Singapore’s current legal framework discriminates against foreign workers as it sees them as “undesirable for inclusion” and should be “sequestered from the local population.” Their situations are worsened further by the close nature of Singapore politics in which, according to Human Rights Watch assessment, “freedom of speech is restricted through the use of broadly worded criminal laws and the use of civil lawsuits and regulatory restrictions.”
To address the problem of discrimination toward migrant workers, the ASEAN Youth Forum held an open space via a Zoom meeting for the Singaporean youths to discuss the issue. The forum invited Jewel Yi, the co-leader for the Covid-19 Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC), to give an overview for the 12 participants at the start of the discussion. Ms. Yi explained that the transient nature of migrant works and bias portrayal by the media are the sources of xenophobia in Singapore. She mentioned that certain news stories depicted migrant workers as “dangerous.” Yi said that Singaporean youth should be more critical toward news that they read because it often contains hidden bias.
The open space has successfully created an enthusiastic discussion among the youth, a rare occasion in Singapore which is not a fully democratic country. They eagerly asked Mr. Yi what the youth can do to reduce xenophobia in their country and how to help migrant workers in current situations. They pointed out that it is difficult to interact with migrant communities because of the sequestration policies. This has, in turn, created a lack of awareness among the youth about foreign workers and their discrimination. By the end of the discussion, the participants agreed that change begins at an individual level – so they are committed to educate themselves on the migrant issues and participate in any way they can.
Here are some highlights from the session
We want Singaporeans to have more interactions and connections with migrant friends because that is how our communities can grow. By interacting more with migrant friends, we can create meaningful engagements and feeling of belonging. We do want to build inclusivity and for Singaporeans perspectives to shift. I think it starts at home, where children see how their parents treat their migrant helpers.
I want to encourage us to be involved in micro-volunteering/micro-giving, because you do not have to wait for others to start. One very simple way that you could participate and contribute is something that is always in your hands: your phone. Read and educate yourself about different perspectives, read different sources, read alternative sources, be your own critical thinker, think from different perspectives. That will really help.