The Straits Times says

Stay alert to threat posed by illegals

Singaporeans should be concerned that there were 416 harbourers and 91 errant employers arrested last year for providing lodging or work to immigration offenders. Among the illegals, there could have been a terrorist who would have quickly exploited this weakness in the nation's defences. The number is an astonishing 59 per cent spike over the previous year's figures. Are Singaporeans becoming lax or taking the hidden enemy for granted? Tough and sustained enforcement by the authorities over the years has helped to curb the menace of illegal immigration. But the danger remains of a terrorist slipping in to lurk among ordinary Singaporeans before making his move. Those who harbour illegals are taking risks with not just their safety but also that of others.

Such recklessness also endangers the social trust that is needed if foreigners are to contribute to economic security by topping up any shortfall of skills here. Illegals, however, chip away at the delicate equilibrium struck between the contributions of local and foreign workers to the economy. Masquerading as permit holders, illegals take jobs on the sly by accepting lower wages, thus spoiling the market for both locals and law-abiding foreigners. Immigration offenders, and their employers and harbourers, take the easy route to making money and ignore the system of labour controls that are essential to prevent wage distortions and to support the restructuring effort.

There's a more compelling reason why no Singaporean can afford to go soft on illegal immigration. Economic security is crucial enough, but the need for it is exceeded by the remit of physical security in an age of global terror. Immigration is a conduit for terrorists and extremists who want to use Singapore as a nodal point for their deadly missions. The recent deportation of four Indonesians, who were believed to have been en route to the Middle East to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, indicates the city-state's vulnerability in this respect. Earlier, a cell of Bangladeshi workers was uncovered here. Its members were planning to attack their home country, but they could have changed their minds and struck at Singapore itself. The documenting of foreign workers makes it possible for the authorities to monitor them. But illegals hiding in the interstices of society pose a substantial risk. By the time a terrorist's plot is uncovered, it might well be too late to prevent or mitigate the harm.

Singaporeans owe it to themselves to respond viscerally to the threat of terror. It is an ever- present danger and more deadly than the usual range of serious crimes that cities have to contend with. Illegals are not to be seen as unfortunates making a living on the margins of the economy. Among them could be a bomb-maker or arsonist. Employing or harbouring them would be just plain foolhardy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline 'Stay alert to threat posed by illegals'. Print Edition | Subscribe