Foreign workers in Singapore are here to stay, and there is a need to develop a healthy, open approach towards these workers, said president of human rights group Maruah on day 14 of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing into last December's Little India riot.
SINGAPORE: Foreign workers in Singapore are here to stay, and there is a need to develop a healthy, open approach towards these workers, said president of human rights group Maruah on day 14 of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing into last December's Little India riot.
Taking the stand in the inquiry on Wednesday, Ms Braema Mathi said developing an open approach to foreign workers has to come from a value system that can be nurtured at a school level.
"We have had foreign workers with us for a long time, " she said.
"Do we have that value system? Yes we do, but more work needs to be done at the school — are we talking enough at the school system, are we talking about guest workers, how do we treat them. I think this is going to be the biggest area for us to work on."
Ms Braema added that alcohol may also have been too quickly blamed for its part in the riot.
Pointing to the new Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill, Ms Braema noted that while alcohol did play a role, the extent of it is not clear.
According to the Bill, a section of Little India will be termed a "Special Zone", with some restrictions imposed at the area.
The restrictions include a general prohibition against the sale, supply, and consumption of alcohol.
"The new law is all about alcohol. So what are we signalling about the guest workers? What are we signalling about these folks who dwell in Little India?" she said.
Instead, she added, the focus should be on the fundamentals of building bonds and repairing damage, which leaders should signal.
Maruah has also submitted a report which included its recommendations on the riot to the committee.
One point it raised was the need to look at the "soft skills" that armed officers who patrol Little India — such as the auxiliary police officers – have, such as the tone they use when dealing with foreign workers, as well as their understanding of different cultures.
The report asked what training officers receive in these areas.
"These comments do not mean that the officers are or aren't equipped with such skills. What is the more important point here is the level of consistency and the ideological framing of respect and dignity for all human beings, while still focusing on law and order issues," the report read.
Maruah also said it hopes the COI will make recommendations that include improving the logistics around recreation-gathering for foreign workers, transportation issues, as well as the social bridging that both Singaporeans and foreign workers need to make in order to live as a community in Singapore.
Separately, residents living in the area said they face some inconveniences when Little India is crowded with workers on Sundays.
This includes workers passing out, falling asleep in public and vomiting after consuming alcohol.
But most said the workers have not caused any major trouble.
They added that the area is now less crowded and noisy following restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol, as well as the limiting of the operating hours of the private bus services from Little India.
But one resident said that she feels Little India has now lost its charm and vibrancy.
"I have noticed that there's been a lower turnout for the celebrations for events that have been traditionally held here," said housewife Tan Huilinn, adding that she is also worried for businesses in the area.
The residents also said that the traffic conditions at Buffalo Road and Race Course Road on Sundays have become more organised since the riot.
One resident said she had previously seen workers running after buses and trying to grab onto the side railings of the moving vehicles as they attempted to get on board.