Fair trial for the 53 workers repatriated?

By Rachel Zeng

In its media release, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that 53 migrant workers will be repatriated after being given a “stern warning”. These workers are those who have been identified as participants in the riot that took place in Little India and have failed to disperse despite the police’s orders to do so. They were said to be rounded up in the morning of 17 December. These individuals will also be prohibited from returning to Singapore. This is while 28 out of those arrested are still in the process of being tried in Court and the Commission of Inquiry into the riot is still taking place.

As I understand it, the Controller of Work Passes and Controller of Immigration hold authority over the revocation of work passes. However as rioting is considered a crime against public order in Singapore under sections 147 and 148 of the Penal Code, these 53 individuals should have been given the opportunity to stand trial, with concrete evidences being produced before they are being found guilty of undesirable actions and before any appropriate actions can be taken against them.

While some might view this as the Ministry’s effort to send a message to the migrant community that harsh consequences will befall them should they disrupt public order, I don’t think this is how “justice” should be served. On the contrary, I personally find it disturbing that they can be simply be rounded up and repatriated in such a non-transparent manner.

Being major stakeholders in how our system is run, I think it is time that Singaporeans question the non-transparency that goes behind this decision to determine who was not being co-operative and whose work permits to revoke. It is also time to ponder over Singapore’s harsh stance on migrant workers who have erred as well as the fact that there is currently no avenue for them to appeal against the revocation of their work passes.

Let’s understand this too – most migrant workers came all the way to Singapore in debt and they contribute to our industries with their labour and skills in exchange of a better life for their families back home. Instead of treating them with such a lack of justice, the least we can do is to let them explain themselves in Court, where evidences will be produced to prove their involvement or innocence in the incident and have all possible mitigating factors considered.

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