News / Asia

    Rare Singapore Riot Forces Soul Searching over Foreign Workers

    The burnt shells of vehicles are pictured along Race Course Road following a riot near Singapore's Little India district, Dec. 9, 2013.
    The burnt shells of vehicles are pictured along Race Course Road following a riot near Singapore's Little India district, Dec. 9, 2013.
    Reuters
    Singapore's first major riot in four decades is forcing the wealthy island to confront a stubborn but vexing question: how to treat low-paid foreign workers whose muscle underpins much of the economy but whose presence increasingly riles its citizens.<br />  <br /> Images of rioters overturning police cars, throwing garbage bins and burning an ambulance in Singapore's Little India on Sunday night shocked the orderly Southeast Asian nation and stirred debate over whether foreign workers should be better integrated or see their numbers reduced.<br />  <br /> “This is just a tip of the iceberg,” said Gayathiri, 30, an engineer who lives near the scene of the riots and goes by one name. “I hope the government will take it as a wake-up call. We need foreigners to boost our economy, but not at the expense of our security,” she added, echoing a widely held sentiment.<br />  <br /> Police charged 24 Indian nationals with rioting, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years' prison and caning. They were among an estimated 400 people who rampaged after a private bus fatally struck construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33. The number of arrests could rise.<br />  <br /> The government has urged people not to jump to conclusions, but nonetheless many Singaporeans blame an overabundance of migrant workers and could use the riots to intensify a push for tighter immigration curbs - a step that could hurt the economy.<br />  <br /> The dominant People's Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore for more than half a century, was already facing pressure over Singapore's high cost of living and its reliance on foreign workers on the island of nearly 5.4 million people.<br />  <br /> Founded by Lee Kuan Yew, the father of the current prime minister, the PAP is credited with transforming Singapore from a colonial outpost in the 1960s into a global financial hub with world-class infrastructure, safe streets, an efficient civil service and the world's highest concentration of millionaires.<br />  <br /> Part of that success is built on cheap foreign labor, which makes up nearly 20 percent of the population. Many Singaporeans have expressed concerns over a government proposal on Jan. 29 to raise the population to 6.9 million by 2030.<br />  <br /> Of that, up to 36 percent, or 2.5 million, would be made up of foreign workers to balance a low birth rate and sustain economic growth.<br />  <br /> <strong>Jobs the Locals Shun</strong><br />  <br /> Many of the current 1.3 million foreign workers do low-paid jobs shunned by locals, such as construction and domestic work.<br />  <br /> Jobs in the construction industry, for instance, are dominated by male workers from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who earn a basic monthly salary of between S$460 ($370) and S$700, according to a campaign group, Transient Workers Count Too.<br />  <br /> That compares with the average Singaporean monthly wage of about S$4,433.<br />  <br /> Employers must pay a government-imposed levy on each foreign worker they wish to hire, with a higher levy for lower-paid workers to regulate their numbers. Authorities could tighten that measure to slow the influx of foreign workers.<br />  <br /> “The latest incident may further increase pressures to reduce Singapore's dependence on foreign workers,” said Chua Hak Bin, a Singapore-based economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Construction as a segment is already seeing some of the steepest levy hikes and tightening in quotas.”<br />  <br /> Others, however, argue that policymakers should focus more on the workers' welfare and integration.<br />  <br /> Many foreign workers live in crowded dormitory compounds, some housing up to 8,000 people, on the fringes of the island.<br />  <br /> “There is no policy for promoting integration. It is a separatist policy,” said Bridget Tan, the founder and chief executive of the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics in Singapore.<br />  <br /> In their scarce free time, many gather in Little India, an area of narrow streets and rows of shop-houses selling colorful fabrics, spices and groceries, a legacy of the 19th-century British colonial rulers who laid out the city in ethnic zones.<br />  <br /> Indians and Bangladeshis have congregated peacefully in large crowds in the area for years, eating, drinking, and illustrating decades of success in maintaining religious harmony in a polyglot community of ethnic Chinese, Malays and Indians that was convulsed by race riots in the late 1960s.<br />  <br /> Authorities banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in the area this weekend. Police stepped up patrols at foreign worker dormitories and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set up an inquiry. However, some commentators say a deeper change of mind-set needs to take place.<br />  <br /> “We seem to operate on a model of wanting the foreign workforce for their labor and economic value, yet wishing they would disappear at all other times,” blogger Alex Au wrote.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.