The point of Home's letter was about a greater need to protect migrant workers who have been victims of scam agents and punish those who deliberately deceive them
THE Ministry of Home Affairs, in its reply on Monday ('Wilful breach of border security can't be condoned') may have misinterpreted the crux of the letter from Home, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics ('Prosecute human traffickers and protect scam victims'; Aug 10).
The point of Home's letter was about a greater need to protect migrant workers who have been victims of scam agents and punish those who deliberately deceive them. Instead, the ministry emphasised the need to protect Singapore's borders about which there is no dispute. Singapore must protect its borders, and this includes thorough investigations to prosecute human traffickers.
However, it is not always the case that humans are smuggled covertly in the boot of cars or in small speedboats.
A critical distinction needs to be made between immigration offenders who may have breached immigration law as a result of the wilful deception of others, and criminals who are a proven threat to the community and national security.
The first situation may arise when migrant workers are coerced or deceived into accepting and paying for jobs overseas, only to realise after their arrival that:
- The jobs don't exist;
- The working conditions are not as promised;
- Their work passes are not legitimate; and
- Their jobs are not legal.
Often in debt after having paid thousands of dollars in recruitment fees, such victims may choose to stay in such situations for fear of further punishment and deportation.
The current tendency towards criminalising all immigration offenders without discrimination results in such workers being punished, despite the fact that it is the scam agents and unethical employers who deceived them who should be fined and jailed.
Authorities tasked with protecting our borders and keeping Singapore safe should also offer protection to those who have been cheated and exploited and currently reside in Singapore, regardless of their immigration status.
With our efficient networks and technological prowess, enhanced coordination between the immigration authorities and the Ministry of Manpower can lead to greater improvements on both fronts.
Stephanie Chok (Ms)
Source: Straits Times, 21 August 2010: Victimised migrant workers - Protect, don't punish