IT’S getting too predictable. Whenever there are arrests, there are allegations of police abuse. Then human rights groups will come out to protest and call for investigations, which the police will do. So it is with the case with those involved in the Little India riots. The police must be getting tired of having to investigate themselves.
But there is something new here and it has to do with the deportation of 53 people who will not be charged in court because their involvement in the riot was “less egregious” — failing to disperse despite police orders to do so, for instance.
Human rights groups have come out to decry what they call “arbitrary deportations’’. The foreigners’ work passes have been revoked and they, therefore, cannot stay on, unless they are called upon to assist in the Committee of Inquiry into the riots.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson has questioned why “so many” migrant workers were being deported without a judicial proceeding, while Amnesty International Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Isabelle Arradon said the authorities were “moving too quickly” in dealing with the alleged rioters. Local NGO Workfair has also weighed in.
The G’s response is that the laws here provide for the repatriation of those assessed to have posed a threat to Singapore’s safety and security, and that the 53 individuals “satisfy the conditions”.
Law and Foreign Minister K Shanmugam was reported as saying that under the Immigration Act, the Government has a right, when a determination is made that someone has acted contrary to Singapore’s interests or acted in a manner prejudicial to the public security or safety, to ask them to leave. That is according to an ST report.
“They have interviewed about 4,000 over, investigated about 400, and then settled on the 53. So I don’t think you can say they chose them on an irrational basis. They had a reason for selecting 53,” he said.
He also said that repatriation takes place “regularly’’. If every such case had to go 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”.
“What we have here works quite well. Foreign workers that come here know they have to behave, and if they don’t, they could be sent back. That keeps most of them on the straight and narrow.”
Local NGO Workfair isn’t pleased with the answer saying in a letter to TODAY that “the costs associated with a protracted judicial process should not be reason for denying access to justice’’.
“The costs cited are justified, considering the economic contributions of migrant workers. Moreover, social justice, equality and human rights are important to every society and should not be sacrificed for the sake of efficiency and costs.’’
This is probably the first time in a long time that Singapore’s policy on deportation of foreigners is in the spotlight. No one would disagree that illegal immigrants and overstayers should be deported. As for those who have committed crimes, we probably can’t wait for them to get them out of the country.
With so many foreign workers in Singapore, there is a case for giving the G a freer hand in handling foreign workers especially in matters of law and order. What is interesting is that Mr Shanmugam said that repatriation takes place “regularly’’. How regularly and what are the various reasons for deportation – or is this something that the immigration authorities cannot disclose?
The picture of foreign workers being hurriedly rounded up and packed off is likely to make people uncomfortable. They’re just “bystanders’’, they would say. Why send them home? Frankly, I’m surprised that not more people have been deported.
The G’s first responsibility is to the people of Singapore. And we have got to think harder about restraining the state’s hand such that it becomes crippling. The embassies of the foreign workers have been alerted and have full consular access. You would think that they would kick up a fuss if they thought their own nationals had been mistreated. I would expect the Singapore embassy to do the same too, if I am in trouble in a foreign land.
Still it would be good if the G makes clear its “administrative’’ responsibilities. Are these in line with practices in other countries with foreign worker populations? It should try to satisfy citizens that its actions are not draconian. This is all part of the growth of an active citizenry more aware of rights and responsibilities on both its part and the part of the G. There will always be questions and it is good politics to answer.