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No nation can survive on its own. The globalization and economic growth of a nation depends very much on foreign talents and workers flowing into the country. Unfortunately, many citizens failed to identify the contributions that they made to their countries, but instead discriminate them. We realized that the government, citizens of the nation as well as foreigners themselves, have a part to play in order not to distort the society and also to reduce all possible forms of discrimination.
In a small developing country like Singapore, where the fundamentals of economic development and growth very much depends on the import of foreigners to take on jobs to boost the economy, there seem to be much conflict of interest amongst the citizens and the government. During the May Day Speech 2010, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong emphasized on the importance of wooing and retaining foreign workers to increase the productivity of the country. The irony is that throughout the years, citizens try all their means to stop the flow of foreigners into Singapore, or otherwise try their best to keep away from them. The building of dormitory in Serangoon Road in Singapore is one that attracted a huge debate.
In my humble opinion, I feel pity for this group of foreigners, who left their homes to fight for economical growth of a stranger country and yet are subjected to the discriminations and prejudices. I realized the trend of xenophobia in modern Singapore, one which could severely hinder the progress of the nation. For that, I would want to look into the roots for the discrimination against foreigners, and also, to search and identify possible solutions to rectify, or more probably minimize this issue.
To a certain extent, the citizen's perception that foreigners are prone to crimes is correct. According to the statistics released by the Singapore Police Force in the Year 2006, the number of foreigners arrested for crime is 2,758, which accounted for 14% of the total persons arrested. This, however, boils down to racial and ethnic inequality issue. Discrimination occurs when we realized that these foreigners arrive from a poor country like Bangladesh and that we formed negative perceptions about them. They are the minority group in Singapore. This is when we often do not realize the contributions they made to Singapore to give us what we have today. From public transports to HDB flats, they all had a hand to it. Due to lack of support in a foreign place, a small number of workers turn to crimes. This in turn results in self-fulfilling prophecy, which supports the perception some Singaporeans have about them.
Anthropologist Oscar Lewis talked about the culture of poverty. The concept on the culture of poverty describes how people remain in poverty because of their adaptations to the burdens of poverty. The people in the culture of poverty have a strong feeling of marginality, of helplessness, of dependency, of not belonging. In addition, they feel themselves being inferior and unworthy of anything. This is exactly what is happening to the low-skilled foreigners situated in Singapore. They do not see themselves as having high goals; instead they have low aspirations, which in turn resulted in them being discouraged by their current circumstances. Alcoholism and physical violence kicks in as they fall despair.
During a parliament dialogue session (Parliament, 2009), Ms Lee Bee Wah, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, mentioned that due to wages issues, where foreign workers are left unpaid, they will eventually start turning to crimes. This will also affect the security of residents living near this group of foreigners.
So much so for the perceptions being supported by a Member of Parliament, now back to reality. The Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs, Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee explained that "this sense of insecurity is based more on perception rather than reality". The fact is that foreigners generally commit fewer crimes than locals. In 2007, the overall arrest rate, ie, number of persons arrested for every 100,000 in the population was 407. The arrest rate for foreigners at 279 was much lower than the figure of 456 for Singapore residents. Indeed, the arrest rate for work permit holders was even lower, at 217 per 100,000 work permit holders.
The figures don't lie, but why can't fellow Singaporeans accept them then?
Governmental policies in Singapore need to take part of the blame, somehow. The governmental policies have somewhat broaden the inequality and made integration between the foreign workers and the locals more convoluted.
One such policy is the marriage restriction policies. Based on the policy, it is actually illegal for Work Permit Holders to tie the knots with a citizen of Singapore or a permanent resident. This actually showed certain discrimination against the lowly-skilled foreign workers. Also, it shows favoritism against highly skilled workers and puts down the lowly skilled ones as this policy is not applicable to the employment pass holders. In an article from The Straits Times, "Crossing the them-and-us divide" (Yeong, J. A., Lynn, L., & Keith, L. 2007), Mr. Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, expressed that "this deliberate distancing stems partly from government policy".
In regards to the policy, he stated that "the Government's attitude seems to be 'Do your job, then go. Don't settle down." and "It has shaped how many Singaporeans treat these workers."
To further illustrate the impact of government policies, we take a look at another Asian country, Korea. This time, the foreign talents from other countries, are the victims. (Shin-who, K. 2009) Governed by the Ministry of Justice, there is a legislation that requires all foreigners seeking Korean work visas to undergo drug tests and criminal background checks as a "measure to deal with the threat foreign workers pose to society's public order and people's health." In a separate article (M. Glionna, John 2009), Tony Hellmann, the communication director of the Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK), was unhappy with the way the legislation is formed. The policy enacted required nearly 20,000 foreign English teachers to submit HIV and drug tests, as well as criminal background checks not required of ethnic Koreans. It gave the idea that teachers from abroad routinely use illicit drugs and commit crimes. "They reflect a mind-set that foreign teachers are potentially dangerous just because they are foreign," said Hellmann.
In another example (Wagner, B. K 2009), Mike Yates, a foreigner, registered the birth of his newborn with the government office, but was shocked to discover that his name did not appear alongside the names of his Korean wife and child on the nation's family register. Enraged, he filed a petition with the government asking for the situation to be remedied. To his surprise, the official response from the Ministry of Public Administration and Security explained: "Clause 1, Article 6, the Resident registration law implies foreigners are not a member of registration in Korea. The Resident registration system was made to record and manage the residence record of Korean, not for foreigners." This is despite the fact that he and his wife were legally married in Korea.
Whereas in Japan (Azad, S 2006), Doudou Diene, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism, said that Japan suffered from what he called a deep and profound racism. Japan is the only developed country in the world that has no official and no national legislation against discrimination and this is against the international instruments, especially the international convention for elimination of racial discrimination, which is required of member states. It is just fortunate that Japanese racism is non-violent and it is expressed more in the form of polite, but firm exclusion.
It remains to be seen if the government has done enough to prevent any forms of discrimination. The citizens in the country look up to the government, and if even the government exercises some form of discrimination, the society and progress of the nation will be hit.
As human beings, we are not born with attitudes that prejudge or discriminate others. It is socialization that results in us picking up values which are either right or wrong. From young, children and teenagers learnt their beliefs and values from their families, and friends whom they mixed around with and thus picking up "labeling". In particular, their parents have the most influence in children forming perceptions about foreigners.
Labeling are merely shells that contain assumptions which make us accept statements without evidence of validity. The assumptions then become stereotypes. Racial ethnic labels seem to be so powerful that the moral values picked up in early life are being ignored (Jaslyn, 2009). Labels actually help people to compartmentalize by isolating negative acts from other areas of their lives. This led to people still feeling good even when they have done bad deeds.
In Korea, as far as cultural tolerance is in concerned, the values and behaviours of the South Koreans are far from multiculturalism. Being an ethnically homogenous state, Korea has been traditionally unfamiliar with the problems of ethnic minorities. The Korean have strong pride in ethnic homogeneity which makes them think that "being different" is "being wrong" and therefore developed prejudice and intolerance toward foreigners and minorities. Ethnic homogeneity issue comes about as long as you look different, and it is so severe that even if you are holding a Korean identity card, as long as you look different, you will be discriminated (In-Jin, Y 2009).
In August 2007, UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination warned the government of the need to recognize the multi-ethnic character of contemporary Korean society, and the danger of the prevalent notion in Korean culture of "pure bloodness" that causes various forms of discrimination against so-called "mixed-bloods" in all areas of life, and has urged the Korean government to take appropriate policy initiatives to eliminate them.
It is indeed true that for the past decade, the Korean's attitude towards these foreigners have significantly improved, however they still treat some foreigners differently according to the development level of countries of origin. It has appeared that Koreans are tolerant and considerate only when foreigners do not compete with them and threaten the Korean culture and social system.
This is exactly the mindset of fellow Singaporeans in regards to the foreign talents, whom they deem will deprive them from jobs as the foreign talents would have snatched all the jobs away. In the article "S'poreans worried about foreign workers", a survey was done and it found the overriding concern that an open-door policy for the foreigners will take jobs away from Singaporeans. The face-to-face poll, carried out by Singapore Press Holdings' research, analysis and planning department, canvassed the opinions of 448 people.
Based on the above cases and articles, we are able to identify some factors that will lead to inequality. For instance, the government policies that discriminates the foreigners, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Also, multiculturalism that can lead a country of people to discriminate against others who are not deemed to be "homogenous" like them. Moreover, the thinking that foreigners are strolling in to snatch their jobs away while enjoying all the possible priviledge has made citizens even more "determined" on discriminating the foreigners.
Fortunately, Singapore celebrates and pretty much place emphasis on the Racial Harmony Day. In a mirco-level, the citizens of a country can learn to accept one another for their differences and will be more willing to accept them in the society. This is one thing that perhaps Japan and Korea can learn from Singapore. The country itself has a rich culture of racial mixture and harmony ever since the racial riots that ended in the year 1969. Being able to accept the foreigners increases your cultural tolerance, and that is one thing lacking in the citizens of the Korea and Japan.
However, Singapore should learn from the positive governmental policies implemented in Korea even though the policies have somewhat led to citizen's discrimination of the foreigners. A coin has two sides, on the flipside, it somehow gives the citizens a sense of belonging and security. Many Singaporeans have expressed their concerns that foreigners have been enjoying priviledges in Singapore while not having the need to take on responsibility. From the article "S'poreans worried about foreign workers", Dr Ahmad Magad, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, pointed out that globalization and porous borders meant that Singaporeans no longer feel secured about their jobs.
The solution for that might be to implement a change that will create a sharper distinction between the rights and privileges of citizenship compared with non-citizens so as to make them feel more secured. It is understood that the recent hikes of health-care charges and school fees for foreigners have done a bit to correct their impressions, however, perhaps an even clearer distinctions can be made to solve the issue.
The most traditional method, or cliché way to resolve the issue is through proper education. With such a great platform like the Civil and Moral Education (CME), correct perceptions on foreigners can be properly conveyed out to the young childrens and teenagers. The education system in Korea and Japan will need to buck themselves up, especially with the irony that some of the teachers might be from overseas. Campaigns can also be set up to raise the awareness of the parents who will in turn affect the values and beliefs of their children. Koreans will have a long way to go, considering that a
In regards to the lowly-skilled workers who are most prone to discrimination, there should also be platforms allowing them to have "freedom of speech". Foreign workers advocates reflected that more should be done to help these workers integrate with the wider community (Saad, I. 2008). The solution will not only to be changing the citizens, but also the foreigners. The self-fulfilling prophecy will then be condemned and eliminated. Giving them a platform to speak up, participate in events such as National Day Parade and engaging them in community activities like the celebration of festivals will help to foster better bonds and understanding between citizens and the foreigners. The government or possible the GRCs should take the first step and organize activities.