Refugees should not be caned – A reply to UNSW Student Magazine, Tharunka

3 Aug

An indignant reply to Sing Keng Loon’s article, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the refugee’.

I am appalled at the suggestion made by Sing Keng Loon that Australia introduces caning as a form of punishment for refugees.

In his article, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the refugee’, Mr Sing recommends that these ‘illegal immigrants’ be caned and then sent back to where they came from. He holds up Singapore as an example where he thinks this zero tolerance policy has worked.

A google search of the name of the said writer with UNSW threw up a cached webpage listing the former as a secretary of the 07/08 committee of the Singapore Students Association (SSA) in this university. When I looked at the current SSA – UNSW website however, Mr Sing is not listed as a committee member anymore.

That Mr Sing Keng Loon, an overseas Singaporean student, would hold such horrible views should not come as a surprise to many. However, he does not speak for all Singaporeans.

As a student myself from the same country, I was exposed to the government controlled propaganda media that exhorts the virtue of judicial punishment. Singapore also does not recognise the status and plight of asylum-seekers or refugees. However, unlike him, I hold the complete opposite views on this issue.

First, caning as a form of punishment is meted out in Singapore for various crimes ranging from drug use  and drug trafficking to rape and ‘illegal immigration’. Yet, this is an archaic form of punishment which should be banned universally. This is because caning is a cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment that is prohibited under international human rights law. People who have been caned suffer from long term psychological and physical scars.

Second, Mr Loon ‘s use of the terms such as ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘boat people’ betrays an inherent biasedness which he then uses to justify the draconian measures that he proposed. By portraying these asylum -seekers as criminals, he is suggesting that the victim be further punished for their situation.

Third, even if we can forego the previous two arguments, Mr Loon is unable to support his claim that caning ‘illegal immigrants’ has worked in Singapore. This is because the government has not released any recent statistics on this matter.

As a western liberal democracy that is aimed at improving and respecting the human rights of its citizens and residents (such as the recent proposal to enact a bill of rights), the idea of caning by the Australian authorities will not only be unimaginable and barbaric but definitely a setback to its human rights records.

Having had the good luck of having the money to study in Australia, I find Mr Loon’s opinion extremely racist and distasteful.

If Mr Loon is indeed a Singapore student and/ or a previous secretary or committee member, I would strongly encourage the Singapore Students Association publicly denounce his views. As a Singaporean student myself, I am disgusted at his vile comments and with the utmost indignation, clarify that he certainly does not speak for all Singaporean students, especially me.

Charles Tan
P.S. This letter will also be posted on my blog as I felt that it is an issue that students and perhaps my reader will be interested to know.


Below is the article that was published in Tharunka, the UNSW student magazine, vol.55, Issue 5, July 2009, p.20:

Spare the rod and spoil the refugee

Sing Keng Loon explains why desperate people should be violently beaten and humiliated

It is simple really. Australia has a boat people problem because they are too lenient with these people. After experiencing persecution, terror and possibly threats to their lives at home, the danger posed by a voyage on a fishing boat pales in comparison. Get through these tough seas between Indonesia and the Northern tip of Australia, and these people get a new lease of life.

But reintroduce caning as a punishment and these people will think twice. There is no need to debate about whether the Liberals or Labor have a better policy to deal with these illegal immigrants. John Howard proclaimed loudly that Australia will determine who comes onto this island. But at the same time, he spent a total of $20 million dollars on a detention centre in Nauru. Recently, although Kevin Rudd has announced the end to the Pacific Solution, recent reports have shown that Australia is still footing the bill for comfortable living quarters at the Christmas Island Detention centre for these illegal immigrants.

It is obvious that illegal immigration is a complex problem for this country. Firstly, this problem saps valuable resources. Secondly, it provides inconvenience for humble folks on Christmas Island. Lastly, but most importantly, this issue wastes everyone’s tiem and effort in a prolonged and intractable debate.

Caning is a cheap and no-frills solution to these problems. There is nothing like shearing a split on the tender skin of the bottom to remind these people that coming on shore is forbidden on this continent. If I were a refugee, I would really reconsider my trip down south if I realise that Australia has a zero tolerance, cane-all-boat people policy.

In this world where every country practises realism, there is no need for Australia to champion any sort of human rights or sympathy. Talks with Indonesia and Malaysia will be futile because these countries just don’t care. They have a multitude of problems to take care of. Boat people using their country as a springboard into Australia are the least of their worries. Neither can Australia police its own shores. With such a vast coast to patrol, it will be impossible to chase every stray fishing boat.

Hence the only way out for Australia is to introduce draconian measures to put people off taking a boat in the first place. Let them in, cane them and send them back. It is as simple as that. Really.

One only has to look at Singapore as an example. Singapore, being an island, has a problem with overstayers and illegal immigrants as well. Yes, some still test their luck, but Singapore canes them all and as a result, these people look to their backside to remind themselves of the consequences of entering this country.

Australians have approximately 46,000 unlawful citizens in their country. They cannot afford to have a half-hearted policy on illegal immigration anymore. With this country locked in a web of disagreement, dramatic pictures of boat people streaming in will continue to dominate the front pages of the newspapers.

It is time to take a stance.

Does Australia tolerate these illegals or not? Are they allowed in? There is no room for moral ambiguity.

In or out. Australia must decide. If it is the latter, then the cane must be unleashed to deter such adventurous immigrants.


One Response to “Refugees should not be caned – A reply to UNSW Student Magazine, Tharunka”

  1. roger matthews August 4, 2009 at 8:51 pm #

    … He is a very sad indictment on the PAP and the old man.Fortunately he is not typical of most Singaporeans but a reflection of how the PAP can and does brain wash some of its citizens. What is disturbing is that he is allowed into Australia to study let alone still allowed to stay here. He knows nothing about the true Australian way of life and if he was to apply for PR I would hope that it be refused.

    Is it little wonder that so many Singaporeans leave their island? The reality is that Australia has very few illegal immigrants,and has become the lucky country only because it has welcomed both immigrants and refugees.

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