Little India Riot: Repatriation of 53 workers under way

A wrecked police car is pictured on Dec 9, 2013. The repatriation of 53 migrant workers involved in the Dec 8 riot in Little India has begun. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
A wrecked police car is pictured on Dec 9, 2013. The repatriation of 53 migrant workers involved in the Dec 8 riot in Little India has begun. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The repatriation of 53 migrant workers involved in the Dec 8 riot in Little India has begun.

The men, all Indian nationals except for one Bangladeshi, are being sent home in groups starting yesterday, The Straits Times learnt.

Some of the men have met members of the Committee of Inquiry appointed to look into the cause of the incident and make recommendations.

Panel member John De Payva said that on Wednesday, the committee interviewed 16 of the 53 workers who were being held at the Admiralty West Prison, an immigration depot.

"We asked them to volunteer, and we had 16 who stepped forward. We've spoken to all 16," said the president emeritus of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) yesterday.

Mr De Payva, however, declined to reveal details of the interviews, citing the ongoing inquiry.

The actions of the 53 workers during the riot ranged from obstructing the police to failing to obey police orders to disperse, police investigations showed.

They were deemed to have posed a threat to the safety and security of Singapore - conditions that allow the authorities to deport and ban them from entering the country again under laws such as the Immigration Act.

On Wednesday, civil society group Workfair Singapore said it had appealed to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants over what it called the "arbitrary deportation" of the 53 workers.

Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam had said earlier that if such cases went to court and the repatriation decision became judicial rather than administrative, then "every foreigner is entitled to stay here at taxpayers' expense, housed here at taxpayers' expense", with cases possibly taking a year to conclude.

He added that under the Immigration Act, the Government could ask an individual to leave once it has been determined that he acted contrary to Singapore's interests or acted in a manner prejudicial to public security or safety.

Apart from the 53 being sent home, 200 will be given advisories to obey the law and will be allowed to remain and work in Singapore. A third group of 28 have been charged with rioting and are in remand. They are expected back in court on Monday.

The inquiry panel, led by former Supreme Court judge G. P. Selvam, is expected to submit its findings and recommendations within six months.

yanliang@sph.com.sg

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