MP put on blast for saying ‘it takes a virus’ to clear field of foreign workers

Screenshot of a now-deleted Facebook post by retired minister Yaacob Ibrahim. Image: Kirsten Han/Facebook
Screenshot of a now-deleted Facebook post by retired minister Yaacob Ibrahim. Image: Kirsten Han/Facebook

MP Yaacob Ibrahim was upbraided on social media today for attributing the emptying of a green space of migrant workers to the coronavirus.  

Several people accused the former communications and information minister of xenophobia for citing the “inconvenience” caused by workers in a Sunday post about the empty field that is usually occupied by “foreign domestic workers.” 

“We have developed a plan to tackle this challenge. But it takes a virus to empty the space,” the Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar GRC originally wrote in the post, which is no longer available. 

It was published hours before Singapore announced the lockdown of two migrant worker dormitories due to COVID-19 outbreaks, putting the spotlight on poor living conditions

Yaacob’s post contained photos of a field next to the Kallang MRT station, which he said was where the workers would usually congregate each week until late at night before Singapore imposed social-distancing rules. 

Among those who called out Yaacob’s comments – and multiple edits of his post before it vanished – was socio-political writer Kirsten Han, who noted that 20,000 migrant workers are now under quarantine and cannot leave their dormitories due to the lockdown. 

“We must stop treating migrant workers as digits that can be trotted out when we have work we want them to do, and shoved out of sight when we have no use for them. Migrant workers are also part of the Singapore community, and should be treated as such,” she wrote online today.

“Shameful to promote xenophobia at [a] time when everyone is feeling unsafe and scared. And now the post is deleted,” Eileen Lee commented in a separate post. 

Yaacob, 64, has represented his district since 1997 and served as communications minister from 2011 to 2018.

It was not clear when Yaacob took down his post, but it wasn’t before others shared screenshots of the edits he had apparently made. 

Among the documented changes was an acknowledgement that migrant workers do need spaces to “interact and meet friends,” but only if they do so in a way that is a “win-win for all.”

“For that area I spoke about there are challenges like the amount of trash they leave behind every night and the noise they create till late at night. My residents are concerned. The solution I am seeking will still allow the foreign workers to still gather there, interact more with residents, and yet be responsible towards those who have their homes there.”

In his third edit, Yaacob appeared to remove the problematic phrase, “But it takes a virus to empty the space,” altogether. 

But the multiple changes he made to the caption did little to appease some. 

“MP Yaacob Ibrahim, your original post is insensitive and xenophobic. Editing, and now deleting, your post to damage-control is abhorrent. As an MP and leader of the country, claiming to promote #SGUnited is ironic and hypocritical,” Facebook user Sean Cham wrote. 


Other stories you should see:

Want to exercise without being a covidiot? Redditors offer guidelines for Singapore.
Filthy, cramped dorms come to light as virus afflicts Singapore’s migrant workers


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