By Abin Thomas, PhD Scholar Student, King’s India Institute, London

Jim Rogers, the American investor who moved to Singapore in 2007 from America (is one of the prominent figures of investment friendly atmosphere in Singapore), cautioned about the immigration restriction and the deficit of work force, in one interview with Forbes Asia reported on 6 June 2013. Within a span of six months, news spread about a riot in the Little India district on Dec 8, following the death of an Indian laborer who was hit by a bus. The clash involved migrant workers from India and Bangladesh with police. There is a relation between Roger’s caveat and the riot as one read between the economic and social parameters. Social and public policy do need to acknowledge the relationship of labor and capital to social conditions in the market.

Reminder to the present crisis, the Bloomberg News wrote, ‘large scale demonstrations have been almost unknown in Singapore since race riots in 1960 killed 34 people’. The sudden eruption of violence news reported was unprecedented to the city-state in four decades. The time is a qualifier to rethink the policy link on migration, labor and capital, thus Roger’s opinion tells a deeper story. Forty years are almost half of a century, but enough to persuade us rethink and recollect the mistakes of the past. The suffering and victim-hood for a long time permeated through the pores of accidental reason in a place called Little India in Singapore on 8th December. The incident, involved non-resident workers, asks an important question. Why does somebody see migration as a problem often, whenever there is social upheaval?

To answer the question is to acknowledge the link between social relations and the realm of objectivity in the market. Much is talked about the migration issue in Singapore, over the last two decades. The current issue of violence is an indicator of social unrest affecting the peaceful working climate: the market relations and movement of capital and labor. The policy perspective on labor and capital in this piece does not see migration as a problem, but a need for the market demand. However, the intelligibility of policy measures makes the process of migration secure and rewarding for the resident and non-resident population alike. There is no logic in assuming the riot as a law and order problem. It is an indication of something deeper in the demographic policy and migration pattern with respect to capital and labor.  According to the World Factbook of CIA, the net migration rate of Singapore is one among the highest in the world. The rate of 15.08 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2013 est.) is fifth in the table of net migration compared to other countries. Also, the state of Singapore is also aware of this trend. Yearbook of Statistics Singapore, 2013, published by Department of Statistics of Republic of Singapore documents the rise of non-resident population, which includes the majority of migrant workers, from 10.3 % in 1990 to 28.2 % of the total population in 2012. A growing concern for migrant labors has become important to human rights discourse all over the world after the riot in Singapore. On Dec 18, 2013, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the secretary general of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and asked to ‘seek greater protection for their nationals working in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. December 18 was International Migrant’s Day.


Urban sociologist and the policy decision makers have to acknowledge the backlash, the violence, as the stain in the rhetoric of development and economic opportunity. Demography, societal relations and recognition of social need to be reciprocated at policy level in real terms to workers. In short, development is not merely an economic activity deducted from social qualifiers, but an inclusive process of policy measures acknowledging the umbilical relation between labor facilitation (eg. Migration policy) and its maintenance (social security and benefits to the labor relationships)

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