A COVID-19 surge has exposed Singapore’s migrant-worker blind spot

More on Singapore, migrant workers and COVID-19:

As a former journalist working in the thick of things in Asia, my favourite assignment was an annual interview with the founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, for Forbes magazine.

A man with an unparalleled grasp of history, a steely gaze and incredible discipline, Mr. Lee knew that in a country such as Singapore – home to a multiracial society, and sitting on an island with almost no natural resources – incredible stamina would be needed to survive. He set in motion a series of policies that catapulted the former British colony into one of the world’s wealthiest enclaves in the span of a few decades. The country is now home to one of the globe’s busiest shipping-container ports and the tenth-largest foreign reserves.

Against all odds, Singapore has survived racial riots, several disease outbreaks, economic downturns and seasonal bouts of debilitating pollution haze from neighbouring countries. Its ability to respond quickly to external threats is credited to its small size, compliant citizenry and place among the world’s most wired nations.

So it came as little surprise that when COVID-19 began to take off, Singapore quickly set the gold standard in its public health response, with early and aggressive testing, meticulous contact tracing, quarantines and travel restrictions. Until recently, it managed to keep the number of positive cases to fewer than 200.

Mr. Lee would have been proud.

But a major blind spot threw the country off-course: it failed to consider the congested dormitories that house 180,000 migrant workers across the island, which became perfect vectors for disease transmission. That oversight has cost the city-state dearly. The number of positive coronavirus cases in the country has surpassed 24,000 – up from 16,000 cases just a week ago – representing, by far, the largest caseload in all of Southeast Asia.

These workers now account for almost 90 per cent of coronavirus cases in Singapore. All are now under quarantine, at a high cost to the country’s economy.

For a government that never leaves even the smallest detail to chance, the blind spot has been a political embarrassment. Singapore’s traditional rival and much larger neighbour, Malaysia, has many more migrant workers and has managed to keep its number of positive COVID-19 cases to fewer than 7,000. Malaysia also started implementing lockdowns earlier than Singapore did.

Strangely, precautions were not put into place even though Singapore’s migrant-worker dormitories have previously suffered outbreaks of measles, dengue fever, tuberculosis and the Zika virus.

The situation has also generated significant foreign-media coverage, exposing the workers’ low pay, congested and often unhygienic living conditions, hazardous working environments, and abuse by employers.

In fairness, many Western countries, including Canada, have also had their weak spots for viral transmission exposed in the fight against COVID-19, including long-term care homes, penitentiaries and meat-processing facilities.

Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, who is the elder Mr. Lee’s son, has introduced measures that will make the dormitories much more secure in the future. Unlike many other world leaders, he has been open in his communication with Singaporeans, stating that normalcy could be months away until a vaccine is developed.

In a memorable televised speech on April 21, Mr. Lee struck a compassionate tone in addressing the country’s migrant workers: “We will care for you, just like we care for Singaporeans.”

The good news is that the government, supported by “Singapore, Inc.” (a term coined to describe the country’s economic expansion strategy in the 20th century), is throwing all it can into the fight against this pandemic, including money, technology and targeted public health messaging. Even robots have been deployed to help maintain physical distancing in parks. Policies known as “circuit-breaker measures,” including stay-at-home orders, will remain in place until at least June.

In my countless interviews with Singapore, Inc.’s leaders in the past, I cannot recall one word ever uttered about the contribution of migrant workers, who come mainly from Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and China.

But as has happened in North America and elsewhere, ordinary citizens have developed a newfound appreciation for front-line labourers – charitablesupport funds for Singapore’s dormitory workers have been heavily supported.

In the longer term, Singapore will have to work hard to deal with a huge plunge in tourism, business travel, shipping and oil refining – all linchpins of its economy.

The country’s post-COVID-19 reset will need to include a look at its weaknesses, starting with the conditions experienced by migrant workers. These workers need to be recognized for who they are – as critical contributors to Singapore’s success story.

Source: A COVID-19 surge has exposed Singapore’s migrant-worker blind spot: Michael Bociurkiw

Singapore Was A Shining Star In COVID-19 Control — Until It Wasn’t

Another example how socioeconomic and immigrant status affects COVID-19 infection rates:

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, Singapore was praised as a shining example of how to handle the new virus. The World Health Organization pointed out that Singapore’s aggressive contact tracing allowed the city-state to quickly identify and isolate any new cases. It quickly shut down clusters of cases and kept most of its economy — and its schools — open. Through the beginning of April, Singapore had recorded fewer than 600 cases.

By the end of April, however, the case count exceeded 17,000. And not only is all of Singapore now under a strict lockdown, but it has the most coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia.

The vast majority of these cases are in the overcrowded dormitories that house more than 300,000 of Singapore’s roughly 1 million foreign workers — and the number of cases is expected to continue to rise in the coming weeks.

“We have started our testing with the dormitories where there were a high number of cases detected,” Singapore’s health minister, Gan Kim Yong, said in a virtual press briefing this week.

Singapore ordered a lockdown on April 7 in response to an uptick in cases in the general population — and then began to find a significant number of cases in the dorms.

Gan says Singapore is now testing more than 3,000 migrant workers a day but hopes to expand that number. The virus is spreading so rapidly in the dormitories, however, that the Health Ministry hasn’t been able to test all of the suspected cases.

“For dormitories where the assessed risk of infection is extremely high, our efforts are focused on isolating those who are symptomatic even without a confirmed COVID-19 test,” Gan says. “This allows us to quickly provide medical care to these patients.”

Singapore is a small city-state with a population of just under 6 million inhabitants. On a per capita basis, it’s the second-richest country in Asia.

But its economy relies heavily on young men from Bangladesh, India and other countries who work jobs in construction and manufacturing. Singapore has no minimum wage for foreign or domestic employees. The foreign workers’ salaries can be as low as US$250 per month, but a typical salary is $500 to $600 a month.

Speaking to the media, Gan credited extensive screening in the dorms with finding many workers who are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but who didn’t appear sick.

“So far, the majority of the cases here have had relatively mild disease or no symptoms. And they do not require extensive medical intervention,” Gan said. “About 30% require closer medical observation due to the underlying health conditions or because of old age.”

As of this week, only a handful of the migrant workers — fewer than two dozen — were in intensive care units.

The city-state is setting up thousands of what it calls “community care beds” in convention centers and other public buildings to isolate and treat coronavirus patients. The hope is that most of the cases can be managed by medical staff in these temporary wards, rather than in hospitals. So far the city has 10,000 community care beds and plans to expand to 20,000 by mid-June.

It’s no surprise that the migrant workers are now being infected, says Mohan Dutta, a professor at Massey University in New Zealand who has done research on these migrant laborers. He says conditions in the dorms put the workers at significant risk of catching a respiratory disease like COVID-19. There are 12 to 20 bunk beds per room.

And even though some of the workers are deemed “essential,” most are no longer allowed to leave the dormitories. “There is little room to move around. They have little room to store their things, which really contributes to this sense of the rooms being unhygienic,” says Dutta.

Dutta, who founded CARE, the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation, at the National University of Singapore in 2012, with a focus on marginalized communities, has just published a paper on migrant workers in Singapore during this pandemic.

He says many of them told him they are concerned about whether they’ll get paid during the lockdown (Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower insists they will) and about the overcrowding and lack of sanitation facilities in the dormitories.

Dutta says that in many dormitories, 100 workers share a block of five toilets and five shower stalls.

“There is this sense of panic and fear, and part of that is related to this sense of not being able to move outside of the room,” he says. “Everyone is pretty much stuck in the room at such close proximity.”

Singapore’s Health Ministry has moved aggressively to try to address the coronavirus outbreaks in the housing blocks. The government is trying to find alternative accommodations for people in the hardest-hit dorms, but Dutta says it’s impossible to come up with safe, short-term lodging for more than 300,000 workers.

But he does believe there could be long-term changes that would help the workers. And Dutta hopes this outbreak will force Singapore to examine how it treats this often overlooked population, bringing major changes in how foreign workers are housed and treated.

Meanwhile, the explosion of cases in Singapore over the last three weeks has remained primarily among foreign workers. For example, on May 1 there were 11 new cases reported among Singapore’s permanent residents and 905 new infections among the workers residing in the dorms.

Michael Merson, the head of the SingHealth Duke-NUS Global Health Institute in Singapore, says it’s unlikely the outbreaks in the dormitories will spill over to the rest of the city.

“There’s very little mixing between the foreign workers and the rest of the population,” Merson says. He’s confident that Singapore’s health officials will be able to isolate the infected workers and give them, in his words, “the best medical care possible.”

Nonetheless, the Singaporean government has extended the lockdown for the entire city-state until at least June 1.

Wealthy Singapore Faces Rising Opposition To Immigration

Seeing more articles on immigration debates in Singapore:

Singapore’s Changi Airport has commenced a six-month trial under which Singaporeans returning home will no longer need passports to clear customs – rather their identities will be verified by iris and facial recognition technology.

This “contactless” form of identification is considered a faster and smoother way of processing arrivals compared to the old passport-and-thumbprint method.

Changi Airport processed some 65.6 million passengers in 2018, a 5.5% jump from the prior year.

However, while Singapore is seeking to make returning citizens more comfortable at airport customs, the city-state is grappling with rising opposition to immigration. As in parts of the West, immigrants are being blamed in Singapore for driving down wages and increasing other living costs.

Proponents of immigration say foreign workers are needed as Singapore ages.

Leong Chan Hoong, an associate professor at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, told World Policy Review that immigration is important to sustain Singapore’s long-term economic performance, “as it is a rapidly aging society with one of the lowest fertility rates in the world.”

Indeed, the government indicated the percentage of citizens at least 65 years of age jumped from 9.9% in 2009 to 16% in 2019. This figure is projected to increase to about 23.7% in 2030.

“Immigration helps to moderate the impact of aging and low birth rates in our citizen population, and keeps it from shrinking over the longer term,” the Prime Minister’s Office Strategy Group said.

However, Leong also said that immigrants are seen by many Singaporeans “as taking away jobs and other resources and eroding Singapore’s cultural identity. There also exists a perception, he added, that Singapore’s political leaders “shows favoritism toward immigrants at the expense of native-born Singaporeans.”

About 40% of Singapore’s 5.7 million residents are immigrants, hailing primarily from China, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia.

While the overall population has increased slightly since 2014, the number of permanent residents and nonresidents has  actually remained relatively stable over that period.

As of June 2018, Singapore had a population of about 5.64 million – comprised 3.47 million residents, 520,000 permanent residents, who have the most privileges as citizens but can’t vote nor hold office, and 1.64 million nonresidents, who typically are work permit holders, students, foreign domestic workers and other dependents.

Leong noted that since the 2011 election, the government has pacified anti-immigrant elements in the society by, among other things, making “a sharper legal distinction between citizens, permanent residents and migrant workers that made it harder for noncitizens to access public benefits.

For example, Singapore has reduced the issuance of “employment passes” – which are granted to foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians – to an average of 3,000 between 2014 and 2017, versus a peak of 32,000 in 2011.

While public demonstrations are rare in the city-state, a  gathering assembled at the Speaker’s Corner in Hong Lim Park in early November to protest the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement – a free trade agreement signed in 2005. Protesters contended this agreement makes it too easy for Indians with professional degrees to immigrate into Singapore, thereby hurting Singaporean citizens.

Gilbert Goh, the organizer of the protest, wrote on Facebook: “Singaporeans, it is time to stand up for your rights to a reasonably good job in our own country — we must always adhere to the Singaporean-first slogan and that employment must be given to a local first before we ever consider a foreigner.”

A recent report on Singapore’s housing market in Bloomberg noted that “with the local labor market hitting a soft patch, and amid rising clamor for a “Singaporean First” employment policy, tight controls on immigration are likely to remain in place through 2020.”

There appears to exist a specific focus on new arrivals from India, many of whom are regarded as unwilling to integrate.

John Solomon. a historian at National University of Singapore, said some Singaporeans are concerned about Indians transferring their caste system.

“Whether or not new immigration from India is indeed bringing about a gradual revival in caste identities in Singapore, the growth of this perception has manifested itself in popular xenophobic stereotypes about the new Indian migrant as an exporter of atavistic and backward social ideas,” he wrote.

Kumaran Pillai, publisher of The Independent News, said new Indian migrants tend to “have their own enclaves” and “they hang around and move in their own circles, … [and] rarely mix and talk with locals.”

Pillai added that many new Indian immigrants are better educated than native Singaporeans and carry an arrogant attitude.

“They’re perceived as a bit uppity, those in management positions. It’s not caste, it’s class consciousness,” Pillai said.

Source: Wealthy Singapore Faces Rising Opposition To Immigration

Singapore: Mandatory course for aspiring Islamic religious teachers returning from overseas graduate studies

While countries like Singapore can require such course, unlike Canada. However, for foreign trained imams, such courses on Canadian laws, human rights and the like would provide needed context for their work with their communities:

Graduates of Islamic studies programmes overseas will be allowed to teach Islam here while taking a mandatory course, which is a requirement for registration as an Islamic teacher in Singapore.

The Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies (PCICS)is a full-time one-year programme that aims to help returning Singaporean graduates readjust and contextualise to local social and political contexts what they have learnt overseas.

Registration for the programme is now open and classes will commence in April next year for the first cohort. The course is relevant for aspiring Islamic leaders in Singapore, also known as asatizah.

Graduates hoping to serve as an asatizah in Singapore will be required to hold the PCICS, as it is now part of the requirements for registration under Tier 1 of the Asatizah Recognition Scheme in Singapore.

Graduates who apply for the Asatizah Recognition Scheme will be given a provisional Asatizah Recognition Scheme recognition that is valid for three years, which will allow them to teach Islam while undergoing the course.

Returning graduates who do not intend to work in the religious sector will not have to go through the PCICS and will not need to apply for the Asatizah Recognition Scheme.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), which set up the PCICS programme, said it will equip Singaporean students with the relevant knowledge and skills to serve in both the religious and secular sectors, while being grounded in Islamic teachings and values.

The programme will replace the current four-week Islam in Context course for all returning graduates.

Students on the PCICS programme will read a selection of modules offered by the Muis Academy and by local and foreign universities.

The programme came about after a panel of seasoned asatizah, led by Deputy Mufti of Singapore, Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, emphasised the importance of equipping future religious leaders with the relevant knowledge and skills to serve in the religious sector, and to deepen their understanding and apply their Islamic learning to the Singapore context.

During an engagement session with overseas graduates on Thursday (Dec 5), a panel of seasoned asatizah, led by Deputy Mufti of Singapore Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, emphasised the importance of equipping future religious leaders with the relevant knowledge and skills to serve in the religious sector.

The panel also said graduates need to deepen their understanding and apply their Islamic learning to the Singapore context.

In an effort to enhance the role of Islamic religious teachers beyond traditional teaching roles, Muis is also developing the Asatizah Workforce Development Plan.

Plans in the pipeline include skills upgrading as well as leadership programmes.

Mr Uwais Al-Qarni Mohamed Fawzi, a recent graduate of Islamic Theology from the University of Jordan, said he will be applying to enrol in the PCICS programme.

“In the (foreign) university, we were mainly exposed to the theoretical aspects of Islam.”

“But religious queries from people in Singapore are different as a result of the diverse community and unique challenges here. Courses like the PCICS programme can further professionalise asatizah to better guide our community,” added the 25-year-old.

Source: Mandatory course for aspiring Islamic religious teachers returning from overseas graduate studies

From Indians to Chinese, Singapore feels the strain of immigration

Tensions in Singapore’s carefully managed multiculturalism:
When a Singaporean man was caught on camera in October yelling vulgarities at a security guard outside his apartment building, telling the hapless worker he had paid S$1.5 million (US$1.1 million) for the place and should not have to fork out extra for guest parking, the video of the exchange soon went viral.

Singaporeans on social media quickly identified the man, assumed he was an Indian expatriate, and told him to “go home” and not bring his country’s caste system to the city state.

Internet users also soon latched on to the topic of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), a free-trade deal signed in 2005 between India and Singapore. They claimed the deal gave Indian nationals a free pass to work in the Lion City, as online vigilantes doxxed the man and called on his employer to axe him, claiming his qualifications had been falsified.

Days after the video went viral, hundreds of demonstrators turned up at a rally protesting against CECA and Singapore’s population growth. This public anger was reminiscent of that seen in 2013 when the government issued a projection that Singapore’s population could hit 6.9 million by 2030. The number currently stands at 5.7 million, roughly 1.7 million of whom are foreigners.

Over the past month, the authorities have attempted to quell the disquiet by making multiple clarifications about the case. The man, Ramesh Erramalli, was born in India but is a naturalised Singaporean with a Singaporean wife. His education certificates were real, CECA did not make it easy for Indians to gain entry to the country for work, nor would any free-trade agreement, the government said.

The display of xenophobia is not new to Singapore. “Foreigners” – from mainland Chinese to Filipinos – have been blamed for a range of problems, including overcrowding on public transport and unemployment.

Source: From Indians to Chinese, Singapore feels the strain of immigration

Singapore — history haunts the ultra-modern state

Nice long read, similar to some of the debates regarding Canadian historical features:

From Cape Town to San Francisco, cities have been toppling monuments to historical figures with troubling legacies. In Singapore, authorities have opted for a more genteel way of dealing with the statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the British colonialist who in 1819 chose the tiny island as the East India Co.’s new regional base.

They are diluting the imperialist’s prominence by erecting for the year four new statues of Asian pioneers near Raffles.

The government is commemorating the bicentennial of Raffles’s landing with a yearlong pageantry of exhibitions, essays and events (there may even be a national election).

It is a means to interrogate Singapore’s rich but oft-overlooked pre-independence history. Yet the process involves risks — it exposes some inherent contradictions about a global city’s identity, as interpreted by a heavy-handed state.

Compared with India and most other former British colonies, independent Singapore has always had a romantic view of colonialism. The country’s most famous hotel and school are named after Raffles. In 2015, when UNESCO designated Singapore’s Botanic Gardens as the country’s first and still only World Heritage site, it was remarkable because rarely does a post-colonial state nominate a colonial landmark rather than an indigenous relic.

Four statues of Asian pioneers were erected near Raffles in January. (Courtesy of Singapore Bicentennial Office)

Colonialism’s Singaporean fans suggest that the modern city has thrived partly because of its legacies, including the English language, common law and the port, still one of the busiest in the world.

Critics say that colonialism was fundamentally corrupt and exploitative, pointing to some debilitating vestiges of the era, such as lingering racial biases and a neoliberalism that excessively benefits the owners of capital and land at the expense of workers.

Three of the four pioneers whose images now grace the new plinths thrived under British rule in the 1800s. They are Munshi Abdullah, a Malay-language author and translator, who was of Arab-Tamil ancestry but was accepted into the Malay community; Indian businessman Narayana Pillai; and Chinese merchant Tan Tock Seng.

The fourth is Sang Nila Utama, a visiting Srivijayan prince who in 1299 bestowed the Sanskrit name Singa-pura, or lion city. His inclusion reflects a grander aim. Singapore is using the bicentennial not simply to reconsider its colonial past, but to stretch its history back by a further 500 years. Singapore’s popularly recognized history is, in other words, going from two centuries to seven. A society hitherto obsessed with the future is waking up to the power of the past.

As somebody born into an ethnic Indian family and brought up in Singapore in the 1970s, I see this as an ambitious effort that could help Singaporeans, often caricatured as unmoored economic digits, better understand our place in this world. It will, for one, serve as a reminder of Singapore’s centrality to the Malay world, and Southeast Asia at large.

That could in turn prompt further scrutiny of The British Empire. For even if Singapore’s colonial experience was relatively mild, horrors were never far away. In 1812, for instance, Raffles led British and Indian soldiers in a violent sacking of the royal palace of Yogyakarta (some of his spoils are on display at an even-handed new exhibition at Singapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum, held in conjunction with the British Museum).

Meanwhile, even as merchant Pillai was moving to Singapore with Raffles and building a successful career under the British, thousands of his fellow Tamils were being indentured by the British for backbreaking work on plantations in Fiji, Mauritius and Malaya.

Singapore, then, as a trading hub of the British Empire, was the varnished administrative center, a glittering front that sheltered its inhabitants from tragedies elsewhere.

Today, Singaporean society is coming to terms with its potential complicity in contemporary global nefarious activities. This includes serving as a corporate hub for unscrupulous palm-oil companies engaging in land grabs in Indonesia; a transshipment point for the illegal trafficking of humans and wildlife; and a tax haven for multinationals and millionaires alike. “The Switzerland of the East” is growing a conscience. A broader understanding of Singapore’s role in the British Empire’s global network will help in that maturation.

Critics wail that the bicentennial pomp is nothing but a cynical ploy by the ruling People’s Action Party to energize citizens ahead of a possible general election. Yet it is not clear how a richer historical appreciation might affect the PAP’s modern standing. The PAP’s enduring creation myth is that it miraculously transformed Singapore from a “fishing village” in the 1960s to a modern metropolis by the 1990s. “From swamp to skyscrapers,” screamed a fawning BBC tribute to Singapore in 2015, on the anniversary of its independence.

Yet just months after Raffles landed, people were flocking to the fast-growing trading colony. “Merchants from every country came to trade,” wrote Abdullah of early 1800s Singapore. “But they did not care so much to do business as they did to see the new town.”

St. Andrew’s School, which I attended, was founded in 1862. In the 1950s, Singapore was already no swamp but one of Asia’s most well-developed and multicultural cities.

The bicentennial commemorations should finally bust the fishing village myth, indicating that the PAP in 1959 took over a bustling, multicultural port well-positioned to capitalize on East Asia’s industrial boom. This could rub some of the sheen off the party’s (nonetheless impressive) legacy.

Any reassessment of colonial misdeeds could also lead to an exploration of potential post-colonial injustices, most notably the numerous alleged communists imprisoned without trial by the PAP, in an intermittent campaign (inherited from the British) that lasted from the 1960s well into the 1990s, when the last prisoner was released. For the PAP, it may be tricky urging the electorate to scrutinize only the British legacy — but not its own.

The new statues are also a reflection of the PAP’s dogmatism in codifying identity and organizing society through an unchanging racial lens, known colloquially as CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, others). In a system derived from colonial-era classifications, every Singaporean is ascribed by age 15 one of the four “races,” which then determines what second language the person can learn in public school and in which neighborhood they can purchase public housing, among other things.

The four pioneers chosen each belong to one of the three major ethnic groups in the country while Raffles himself is the representative of that amorphous “others” category, which includes everybody from Armenians to Yemenis.

It is a reminder that state-ordained representation was a bigger consideration in erecting the four states than fame. After the unveiling in January this year, Singaporeans rushed to Google “Munshi Abdullah” and “Narayana Pillai,” the respective Malay and Indian figures we now have to commemorate. Few knew who they were.

Yet any effort to comprehensively represent identities in a global city is doomed to fail. Almost immediately, women complained about their exclusion from the all-male statuary. Today, Singapore is home to scores of ethnicities, each splashing their own color onto the city’s always-somewhere-between-Asia-and-the-West palette.

Moreover, the multicultural dogmas of CMIO do not gel with the reality of Chinese predominance, say critics. The PAP recently chose its next leader — and thus Singapore’s probable next prime minister — from a longlist comprised of six ethnic Chinese men. (Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the immensely popular Indian deputy prime minister, was the notable exclusion).

Singapore’s stated immigration policies, meanwhile, give preference to ethnic Chinese migrants to ensure the group always retains its supermajority, currently over 70% of the population of 5.5 million.

All of this reflects the ethnic determinism of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, who said that Singapore’s success was due to the fact that the majority of its people are Chinese who are “practical,” in contrast with Indians, who “believe in the politics of contention.” He separately noted that Malays are “not as hardworking and capable as the other races.”

Under the British, Singapore thrived as a free port where, as evidenced by Abdullah, Pillai and Tan, a person of any color could succeed — as long as they did not challenge white rule. The PAP is, in some ways, the colonialists’ natural successor.

Ethnic nationalists everywhere might draw succor from the paradox of a global city run meticulously along racial lines by a dominant group.

Nevertheless, history is not destiny. Many younger Singaporeans yearn for the day when race and gender (and sexual orientation) no longer matter, and society strives to protect the downtrodden as much as it elevates the elites.

If and when that comes, perhaps Raffles will be joined not by just four other men on the Singapore River but by dozens of figures representing the city’s many hues.

Source: Singapore — history haunts the ultra-modern state

Singapore’s young view multiracialism differently, says Janil Puthucheary, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

Always interesting to follow developments in Singapore given the historic tensions and how they have largely overcome them, and how the issues have shifted from security to inclusion and representation:

The way today’s young view multiracialism and multiculturalism is different from how they were envisioned 50 years ago, said Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary on Wednesday (Nov 1).

Still, it is important to understand how the younger generation feels about these values, he added.

Though racism today is talked about more in terms of stereotypes and representation rather than about safety and security, it is no less an important issue, he added.

Dr Janil, who is chairman of OnePeople.sg, a charity that promotes racial harmony, made the point at its 10th anniversary dinner.

He said people no longer worry whether they can walk safely through different parts of town because of their race. But they worry about jokes and how many actors are representing their race on television.

“It’s an aspiration to a higher type of inclusion, and that shift of aspiration speaks about how much we’ve done and about far we’ve come as a country,” he said.

Although the anger and outrage the young feel when those aspirations are not met may initially look trivial compared with the dangers of the past, these new issues cannot be ignored, said Dr Janil, who is Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information as well as Education.

“If not, the next generation will feel disenfranchised and will not believe in our model of multiculturalism or multiracialism. We must treat their aspirations for a deeper harmony with the same vigour and respect as the social issues of the past. We must tackle them and do something about them.”

He added: “We have come a long way as a country and as OnePeople.sg over the last 10 years, but our need to tackle racism and our model of multiculturalism and multiracialism – to make sure the next generation understands why we place so much emphasis on this and on getting this right – this mission has not changed.”

Dr Janil was speaking to more than 500 people, including community and religious leaders, volunteers and donors at Shangri-La Hotel.

His organisation, previously known as the Central Singapore Joint Social Service Centre, was set up in 1997 to coordinate the resources of the community development councils and self-help groups.

It took on the role of promoting racial harmony in 2001 with the People’s Association and in 2007, was renamed OnePeople.sg.

It has since been working with schools to build shared values and grow a pool of youth ambassadors and facilitators to spread the message of religious harmony and lead programmes. The group has grown to about 160 facilitators, up from 10 in 2007.

It also works with community groups and ethnic and religious institutions to foster community cohesion. Dr Janil said the organisation will continue to widen its network and build partnerships with more groups, especially youth groups, and work to create safe spaces for people to discuss difficult issues.

The dinner raised about $501,000 to fund the charity’s programmes and activities.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the dinner’s guest-of-honour, launched a commemorative book of research articles on ethnic diversity in Singapore.

The 504-page book, titled “The Singapore Ethnic Mosaic: Many Cultures, One People”, covers aspects of the history, religion, language, value systems and diet, for instance, of various sub-ethnic groups.

Excerpts may be made available as a resource for schools and community and religious groups, through exhibitions or digital e-books.

Mr Thomas Liew, 35, a volunteer for the past 10 years at the charity, facilitating small group discussions, said it is heartwarming to see young people today are well-read and concerned about race and ethnicity issues and about Singapore.

“Raising awareness about these issues is important because we cannot be complacent about our peace and stability brought about by racial harmony,” he said.

Polytechnic student Nurul Fatimah, 18, said she has been on the receiving end of distasteful jokes in school, which came as a culture shock after studying in a madrasah for many years before that.

The youth advocate at OnePeople.sg, who plans events for other students, said she does so because she believes racial harmony is something fragile that should be protected.

“We don’t have racial riots and people may take racial harmony for granted. A problem no matter how small can build into a bigger problem, so we can’t ever let our guard down,” she said.

Source: Singapore’s young view multiracialism differently, says Janil Puthucheary, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

Singapore debates dual nationalities, cites overseas Indian citizenship as option | world-news | Hindustan Times

Interesting account of Singapore debates:

Singapore has debated the option of dual citizenship for its nationals, with some citing concepts like ‘Overseas Citizenship of India’ given by New Delhi to Indian diaspora as a middle path.

Diplomats and academics have raised pros and cons of allowing Singaporeans to have dual citizenship, according to a report in The Sunday Times on Sunday.

In 2013, the government had responded to parliamentary questions, saying that Singapore being “a small and young nation” is concerned as it could dilute citizens’ commitment to the country.

The issue of whether Singapore should one day consider dual citizenship has been raised from time to time in discussions about the future of Singapore citizenship.

Barry Desker of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, a prominent advocate of dual citizenship, argued that it would help Singaporeans living abroad and foreigners in Singapore who are married to Singaporeans.

Singapore “may be losing good people” when Singaporeans living abroad are forced to give up their citizenship, said Professor Tan Tai Yong of Yale-NUS College in the National University of Singapore.

Associate Professor Eugene Tan of Singapore Management University said that dual citizenship should not have a detrimental impact in terms of people’s sense of belonging to the country.

A strong opponent of dual citizenship, Professor Leo Suryadinata of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute argued that citizenship is about political loyalty and it is doubtful if a person can be loyal to two countries.

“In an age of growing nationalism and the potential break-up of the European Union, global trends appear to be moving away from dual citizenship,” he observed.

Institute of Policy Studies researcher Debbie Soon said if Singapore were to one day be in conflict with another country, dual citizenship would be problematic because of the island state’s conscription system.

“But discussions on dual citizenship do not have to yield a binary yes-or-no answer,” argued Associate Professor Elaine Ho of the National University of Singapore.

There are in-between options that may enhance the links people have to Singapore, she noted.

One is the British example of an ancestry visa, which offers foreigners who can prove ancestral links to Britain an inside track to living and working there. A similar concept is the Overseas Citizenship of India.

According to Prof Tan Tai Yong the honorary citizenship, which Singapore grants to a very select group of foreigners who have made outstanding contributions to the country, is also an example of an in-between option.

Source: Singapore debates dual nationalities, cites overseas Indian citizenship as option | world-news | Hindustan Times

Singapore’s Way to Multiculturalism – Fair Observer

While the ‘social engineering’ of housing policy and practices is likely unique to Singapore, it still is an interesting case study of reducing barriers. But as their society evolves, some of similar questions about identity, citizenship and belonging arise:

A national poll released a few weeks ago found most Singaporeans try to live out multiracial ideals and believe in meritocracy. More than seven in 10 Singaporeans believe personal success is independent of race or ethnicity, according to the survey commissioned by Channel NewsAsia and the Institute of Policy Studies.

That’s a remarkable finding for diverse Singapore, whose population is 74.2% Chinese, 13.3% Malay, 9.2% Indian and 3.3% other. It’s also the most religiously diverse nation in the world, according to a 2014 analysis by the Pew Research Center, its population made up of sizable portions of Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

The poll is especially noteworthy considering how far the country has come in half a century, when its early days as a new nation were beset by ethnic tensions and race riots.

Singapore’s strides toward multiculturalism got a shout-out from President Obama, who played host to visiting Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in August.

“In the United States, we call ourselves a ‘melting pot’ of different races, religions and creeds. In Singapore, it is rojak—different parts united in a harmonious whole,” Obama said. “We’re bound by the belief that no matter who you are, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make it.” (Rojak is a traditional fruit and vegetable salad dish named after a Malay term for mixture.)

Singapore sets an example for the world on multiculturalism. A founding principal of the country is the integration of its ethnic and racial groups—a decision was made at the outset to treat every race, language and religion as equal. It made an asset of its ethnic and religious diversity, and the result is relative racial harmony.


How did Singapore do it? One answer is forced housing integration. In Singapore, 85% live in very decent, mostly owner-occupied public housing, and racial quotas mean every block, precinct and enclave fall in line with the national ethnic population percentages mentioned above.

Forcing different peoples to live together as neighbors broke up the ethnic ghettoes and the all-Chinese, all-Malay or all-Indian blocks that could be found at the country’s founding in 1965. The housing policy “was authoritarian, intrusive, and it turns out to be our greatest strength,” Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said.

The Housing Development Board (HDB) public housing high-rises were Singapore’s answer to affordable housing. Most HDB dwellers own their own flat, adding to their sense of responsibility and community pride. The units are heavily subsidized for young couples buying a starter home in one of the world’s most expensive cities. The term HDB carries none of the stigma that, say, the term housing project carries in the US.

The HDB has other positive social impacts. By clustering housing near commercial centers and transit hubs, Singapore makes it easier for its residents to live and work in the same place. The best commute, as a Harvard economist once said, is a lift downstairs.

And Singapore can call itself a “Garden City” for the proportion of land that remains open. The concept of HDBs—of building up, and not out—allows Singapore to preserve much of its green space for recreation, while two-thirds of its land surface is used for rainwater catchment.

Source: Singapore’s Way to Multiculturalism – Fair Observer

Enhancing Creativity Through Multiculturalism

Some interesting research on creativity and multiculturalism from Singapore:

In one study, Professor Leung exposed European American undergraduates to one of these three conditions using a 45-minute multi-media slideshow:

  1. single culture through presenting pictures of items that depicted either the American culture e.g., the Statue of Liberty, a hamburger or the Chinese culture e.g., the Great Wall, hotpot dinner on each slide;
  2. dual cultures through presenting pictures of items that depicted American culture and pictures that depicted Chinese culture on each slide; and,
  3. fusion of cultures e.g., a picture of Starbucks’ mid-Autumn festival mooncakes.

She found that participants demonstrated better creative performance when exposed to dual cultures and fusion of cultures, compared to those who were exposed to a single culture. Their creative performance persisted five to seven days after initial exposure.

“Initially, I thought those who were exposed to the fusion culture would perform the best. But the tendency was that those who were exposed to two different cultures showed more creativity. Perhaps the exposure to separate cultures gave them the space to engage in cognitive juxtaposition of the ideas from the respective cultures. When they seek to actively compare and contrast the presented cultures, they delve deeper into the different cultural representations and receive more creative inspirations,” she says.

Another significant finding from her research was that while multicultural individuals tended to be more creative, other considerations had to be taken into account, such as how open and receptive an individual was to new experiences.

Enhancing Creativity Through Multiculturalism | Asian Scientist Magazine | Science, Technology and Medicine News Updates From Asia.