The categorisation of COVID-19 cases between those in the Singapore “community” and those in migrant worker dormitories will potentially fuel racism and discrimination against the latter after the circuit breaker measures end, said Bernard Chen, former organising secretary for the Workers’ Party (WP) Youth Wing.
Mr Chen, the youngest candidate fielded by the WP in the 2015 General Election, said in a Facebook post yesterday (28 April) that the divisive picture painted by the categorisation will lead to the growing perception that those not “in the community” are “infectious and dangerous”.
“As migrant workers walk back into “the community”, there is bound to be doubt and suspicion hanging over them,” he said.
Singapore’s approach in handling COVID-19 cases among migrant workers, Mr Chen posited, has parallels to the colonial British “divide and rule” attitude, during which the three main races at the time — the Chinese, the Malays and the Indians — were judged to “behave very differently” from one another by the colonists.
“Post-pandemic, we can be quite certain that the migrant workers will be stamped with the “Covid-19 label” … The “if you don’t behave, the Ah pu-neh neh will catch you” advice will become, “if you don’t listen and go close to them, you will catch the virus”, said Mr Chen.
The separation of migrant workers from the rest of the Singapore community in terms of managing COVID-19, he added, also stems from the need “to isolate responsibility and celebrate our successes”.
“How selfish and arrogant can we be to continue to think that that we can be statistically separated from them?” Mr Chen questioned in a separate post.
“Our numbers may be stable, but theirs are not. And that means that we are all not well,” he said.
“Singapore can only be as strong as our weakest link. Right now, we are weak and we have much to be ashamed of,” Mr Chen lamented.
In a separate critique of a post by Critical Spectator, a sociopolitical blog run by Polish national Michael Petraeus, Mr Chen observed that migrant workers in Singapore are living a “peripheral” and “invisible” existence — except when they occasionally congregate in public places to meet fellow workers.
“But when they are literally visible, we tend to call them out for being a nuisance. The “unruliness” and the “noise” that they may create has been the narratives that form part of our crusading motivation to restore a semblance of hygiene modernity to our environs,” he said.
From the above, Singapore society had developed “a racialised perception” of the migrant workers being “dirty”, disorderly” and “violent”.
Singapore society’s “continued acceptance” of the above, Mr Chen posits, mirrors the “systematic exclusion linked to their transience”.
As a result of the normalisation of migrant workers being in the margins of Singapore society, he predicted that “there will continue to be few changes in their experiences and welfare post-pandemic”.
“Consider how we as a nation has systematically stripped away their identity and dignity, in the name of order, convenience and “how fortunate they are in having that “once-in-a-lifetime” to work in a country like Singapore,” said Mr Chen.
From the deeply ignorant article posted on Lianhe Zaobao, to the since-deleted remarks made by former minister and current PAP Member of Parliament (MP),Yaacob Ibrahim on Facebook, to how the government initially failed to cater to the migrant worker needs at the initial outbreak of the coronavirus, it is manifestly clear that they are not viewed by Singaporeans as an integral part of our society.
Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist from the Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said in a recent interview with CNA’s Talking Point that while isolating all of the migrant worker dormitories may stop the virus from spreading to the rest of Singapore, it is important to remember that they are a part of our community and not a separate and different group to be shut out.
Even from a purely pragmatic standpoint, the failure to manage the spread of COVID-19 among migrant workers will eventually backfire against a small nation such as Singapore, said Jeremy Lim, a professor and the co-director of global health at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health in an interview with TIME.