Civil society groups 'alarmed' by surge of racism and xenophobia

The crowd along Orchard Road on Jan 2, 2014. Twelve civil society groups and 20 other people, including well-known activists Constance Singam and Vincent Wijeysingha, have signed a statement to raise concerns about "the recent surge of racism and xen
The crowd along Orchard Road on Jan 2, 2014. Twelve civil society groups and 20 other people, including well-known activists Constance Singam and Vincent Wijeysingha, have signed a statement to raise concerns about "the recent surge of racism and xenophobia in Singapore". -- FILE PHOTO: ST

SINGAPORE - Twelve civil society groups and 20 other people, including well-known activists Constance Singam and Vincent Wijeysingha, have signed a statement to raise concerns about "the recent surge of racism and xenophobia in Singapore".

The groups include the Association of Women for Action and Research, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics and Maruah.

They said they were "alarmed" by the surge of such sentiments recently, in the statement sent to the media on Wednesday.

"We see the widespread use of racist, aggressive and militarised rhetoric on social media, as well as a trend of blaming foreigners for social ills," they said in the statement.

"Ordinary people have been threatened in public spaces with nationalist or anti-foreigner language."

Just this week, a group behind a Filipino Independence Day celebration had to call off the event after its choice of venue - Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza in Orchard - was criticised by some netizens here, sparking concerns about public safety and security.

In the statement, the civil society groups said the key to addressing the economic frustrations felt by many Singaporeans is to "amend the economic policies and structures that cause worsening economic inequality and marginalisation".

These policies, they noted, were not "instituted by migrants and will not automatically disappear if the migrant population decreases".

Such anti-foreigner sentiments also stifle constructive political discussion because symbols such as pink identity cards or National Service then become "sacred emblems of belonging and entitlement", which prevents them from being discussed openly, they said. Discussions of immigration policy, they said, will ultimately affect the treatment of migrants already living in Singapore.

The 12 organisations which signed the statement also included groups such as Transient Workers Count Too and Think Centre and individuals like former Nominated MP and political watcher Siew Kum Hong and former detainee Teo Soh Lung. They called for Singaporeans to unite in rejecting the politics of division, xenophobia and hate and be responsible for the impact of their contributions to Singapore's social climate and political conversation.