May 28th, 2014

Civil society statement on racism and xenophobia

2205859730_29babd985f_zWe, the undersigned, are alarmed by the recent surge of racism and xenophobia in Singapore.  They threaten the human rights of all (especially migrants) and the health of our political conversation.

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 inequitable policies were not instituted by migrants and will not automatically disappear if the migrant population decreases.  We urge for the energies of civil society to be directed toward creating a fairer, more equal society for all, including universal labour rights and employment protections.

Focusing on immigrants does not contribute to these structural changes and instead creates an unsafe and divisive society.  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.  Ordinary people have been threatened in public spaces with nationalist and/or anti-foreigner language.  To identify “true blue Singaporeans”, people appeal to prejudices about race, class, skin colour, names, accent, language, and other markers of difference, creating an oppressive society where people constantly discriminate against one another. This supports various forms of discrimination, not just against non-Singaporeans but also among Singaporeans – for example, on the basis of gender, age, disability, class, ethnicity, descent and other characteristics.

This anti-foreigner approach also stifles constructive political discussion.  Some elevate pink identity cards or National Service to sacred emblems of belonging and entitlement, which cannot then be discussed openly and inclusively.

Discussion of immigration policy does not take place in a vacuum.  If we keep describing the presence of migrants as illegitimate and a threat to Singaporeans, this has inevitable effects on the treatment of migrants who are already in Singapore.  We must conduct any discussion of state policy in a way that is fully mindful of those effects.

For years, Government policy and rhetoric have marginalised migrants and others, for instance by not giving domestic workers full and equal employment protections.  Even though the Government’s policies have an inevitable impact on societal discrimination, each of us must be responsible for the impact of our own contributions to Singapore’s social climate and political conversation.

Civil society has a particular role to play in working to take care of the needs of minority groups such as migrants, rather than contributing to their marginalisation.  We should work to promote not only robust political debate, but also the values of equality and universal human rights.  Those values are the true animating force of our desire for social change, and they require us to unite in rejecting the politics of division, xenophobia and hate.


Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE)
Beyond the Border, Behind the Men
Function 8
Free Community Church
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME)
LeftWrite Center
Project X
Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
Think Centre Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)


Alvin Tan Cheong Kheng
Andre Goh
Carolyn Oei
Chong Si Min
Constance Singam
Damien Chng
Farhan M. Idris
Fikri Alkhatib
Godwin Koay
Gwen Guo
Ian Chong
Janice Koh
Jean Chong
Jessica Yang
Jolene Tan
June Yang Yajun
Kirat Kaur
Kirsten Han
Lynn Lee
Mark Wong De Yi
Rachel Zeng
Shelley Thio
Siew Kum Hong
Stephanie Chan Man Yi
Tabris Chen
Tan Zong Xuan
Teng Qian Xi
Teo Soh Lung
Vincent Wijeysingha
Wong Pei Chi
Yap Ching Wi
Zaqeer Radzi

Note: Italicised names were added after the original statement was released on 28 May. 

One Comment ...

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Cannot allow the rabid minority online to falsely represent us all.