Simulation exercise involving foreign workers dehumanizing, say rights groups

Joint exercise with Police, SCDF & foreign worker ambassadors. Source: Khaw Boon Wan's Facebook page

A simulation of a dormitory riot involving the police, SCDF and foreign workers has been slammed by migrant workers’ rights groups as racist and demeaning.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan first posted about the joint exercise on Monday, saying it was important to test responses of the police and SCDF to scenarios such as fights in workers’ dormitories.

The exercise involved “foreign worker ambassadors” who appeared to be of South Asian origin. The post drew a flurry of negative responses, with many calling the simulation offensive and distasteful.

“What it has done is reinforce the stereotype that foreign workers, especially those of South Asian origin are more prone to violence and riots. Not only does this encourage racism towards the community, it de-humanises and marginalises migrant workers even further. Such an approach also counters current efforts to integrate migrant workers into Singapore society,” said non-governmental organisation HOME Singapore on Facebook. The exercise further alienates the migrant worker community from Singapore society, it added.

Migrant workers’ rights group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) also gave their take, saying, “Deploying foreign workers as rioters in a simulation, and posting about how foreign worker dormitories are possible sites of future rioting, reinforce stereotypes and dehumanise all those who made family sacrifices to come work in Singapore.”

Blogger and civil activist Kirsten Han wrote on Yahoo Singapore on Wednesday that the exercise only serves to re-inforce racial stereotypes in Singapore.

"An expat banker who gets into a fight is an aberration, a poor example of foreign talent. We criticise him, we might even troll him, but he is, at the end of the day, just one douchebag. His actions are his alone, and all the other yuppies who hang out along the Singapore River need shoulder no responsibility. There will be no alcohol ban, no increased police presence to make all the bankers line up for buses to shuttle them back to their homes," she wrote.

"A brown migrant worker who gets into a fight is a whole different story. He is immediately held up as a threat to Singapore’s law and order – him, and all the other brown workers like him. The bad behaviour of a minority – even the Little India riot only involved an estimated 400 out of over 300,000 construction workers here or roughly 0.1 per cent – is imposed on the entire group."

Khaw clarified on Wednesday evening that all who were involved in the simulation exercise found it beneficial, and called it a “meaningful collaboration which bonded the residents and foreign workers”.

He added, “This is one of the many engagement and education sessions conducted by our grassroots and government agencies with foreign workers, regardless of nationality or race.”