Building a divided nation

The newly-built Penjuru Recreation centre is a piece of work. Hailed by AsiaOne as a place for foreign workers in Jurong East to “relax on weekends or attend classes in their free time”, it promises to be a new recreational hub/haven that will improve the lives of our migrant workers. Will it really?

While I applaud the facility itself and have no doubt that there is much benefit to be had in the way of services, products and entertainment that meets the needs of migrant workers, I find it slightly alarming that Singapore is building little townships to house them.

MP Foo Mee Har’s (West Coast, PAP) quote echoes this two-edged sword, perhaps even without her realising. She said, “The workers can enjoy themselves here. This will help to mitigate the disturbance to the residents.”

While workers do benefit, these facilities represent a disturbing trend of 1) Singaporeans not welcoming the presence of (obviously large numbers of) foreign workers in our midst, 2) FWs being housed in dormitory “enclaves”.

The net result? Horrible integration. We Singaporeans will keep FWs pigeon-holed as a “necessary evil”, try to hide them out of sight (MP Zaqy Mohamad even suggested shipping them off to live on one of our offshore islands during a 2008 parliamentary session), and basically keep them in an “alternate reality” Singapore. While it is a practical solution, this isn’t healthy for the soul of the nation, especially one that proudly sells itself as multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious.

A friend complained that his relative, a qualified, experienced Muslim pilot, was turned down for a pilot job at the air force because they “didn’t serve halal food at the cookhouse”. Is it a case of what happens to the FWs trickles down to hurt our own citizens, or has Singapore been nurturing a secret racist culture all this while, and the FWs are simply our latest victims?

Our pragmatic reasoning is that this is the simplest solution, but in the long run this attitude will only eat away at our heart and soul. We need to address these issues openly, stop devaluing labour (which was the trigger for the massive influx of cheap FWs) and start looking at people like humans, not factors of production.

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