SINGAPORE (AFP) – Singapore officials under attack by rights groups for using South Asian workers in a mock riot defended the exercise on Thursday and said similar operations will be carried out to preserve law and order.
The drill took place in a migrant workers’ dormitory on October 26, less than a year after South Asian workers staged the worst riot in the city-state since the 1960s.
Rights groups have criticised it for “reinforcing stereotypes” and “dehumanising” the workers.
In a joint statement, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said such exercises are regularly conducted in worker dormitories to ensure processes are in place to deal with potential incidents.
They said the workers involved were volunteers.
“SPF and SCDF will continue to conduct similar exercises in other foreign worker dormitories around Singapore,” the statement said.
National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan set off a furore on Tuesday when he posted photographs on Facebook of the anti-riot drill featuring police, civil defence forces – and migrant workers playing the role of rioters.
The photographs showed workers standing next to flames and confronting police officers decked in riot gear.
One image showed workers kneeling on the ground surrounded by police officers.
Responding to online criticism, Khaw took to Facebook again late Wednesday to reiterate that the exercise was a “meaningful collaboration” that was “well received by the various stakeholders”, including the workers.
He said he was visiting China during the exercise and was later briefed about it by organisers.
The dormitory where the exercise was conducted houses only South Asian workers, and is located in Khaw’s parliamentary district.
The campaign group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) said the exercise reinforced “the stereotype that foreign workers, especially those of South Asian origin, are more prone to violence and riots”.
Another local group called Transient Workers Count Too said the portrayal of foreign workers as rioters “is reinforcing stereotypes and dehumanising all those who made family sacrifices” to work in Singapore.
But some online commentators defended the minister and the exercise, saying the participation of migrant workers was necessary to ensure the drill was realistic.
A riot by an estimated 400 South Asian workers in Singapore’s Little India district on December 8 last year left 39 people, including SPF and SCDF officers, injured and 25 vehicles destroyed.
It began after an Indian worker was crushed to death under a bus, and was the worst outbreak of violence in tightly-controlled Singapore since racial disturbances in 1969.