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Even an appeal through PM Lawrence Wong couldn’t keep Sharif in Singapore

This week: Migrant worker and poet Sharif has been forced to leave Singapore, but so many questions still remain.

This week's issue is a bit monster because I have so many thoughts and feels about what happened to Sharif. Even though he's already returned to Bangladesh, there is just so much left to be said. I've split it up into sub-sections.

(1.1) Sharif leaves Singapore

Uddin MD Sharif was forced to return to Bangladesh early Friday morning after having spent 16 years of his life building Singapore. I sent out an urgent special issue on Thursday: police investigations found no evidence that he’d borrowed money from unlicensed moneylenders, confirming that he and his former employer had been victims of harassment. The police were unable to find the harasser, but since the investigation was concluded, Sharif was given up to yesterday (31 May) to leave Singapore.

In a last-ditch attempt to change the minds of the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, Sharif went to see our new Prime Minster Lawrence Wong at his Meet-the-People Session on Wednesday night. He wasn’t allowed in because he is neither a citizen nor Wong’s constituent, but the Singaporeans who accompanied him spoke to the prime minister on his behalf. “After hearing my friends out, the PM immediately said he will write a letter to ICA the same night, asking them to extend my stay in Singapore so I am able to find a job,” Sharif wrote in a Facebook post.

What followed was a long anxious wait for the result of this appeal. The answer didn’t come until around midnight, when ICA and MOM posted a joint statement on Facebook saying they still wouldn’t be extending Sharif’s Special Pass. There was no choice but for Sharif to get on that 5am flight back to Bangladesh.

(1.2) Red herrings and victim-blaming

In my special issue, I wrote that “Singaporeans are increasingly seeing the connections between our lives and that of migrant workers.” Looking at some of the Facebook comments in response to Sharif’s case, I wonder if that was too much wishful thinking. Too many commenters were eager to dismiss what was happening just because it was happening to a migrant worker and not a Singaporean. It’s not only callous, given how much migrant workers contribute to Singapore, it’s also illogical zero-sum thinking that only benefits those seeking to exploit workers.

ICA and MOM’s throwing out of a red herring about Sharif having turned down a couple of non-construction job offers has also been effective in diverting attention away from a system that produced a manifestly unjust outcome. The state has framed Sharif not as the victim of harassment he is, but as an unreasonably choosy migrant worker, and too many Singaporeans have taken the bait.

Would you accept this situation if it happened to you? If your employer sacked you not because you’d done anything wrong, but because you’d become a target of some unknown person’s harassment? If the perpetrator wasn’t actually caught, but you lost your livelihood anyway and got kicked out of the country you’d worked in for 16 years?

The system did not merely allow a migrant worker, who did nothing wrong, to lose his livelihood and ability to remain in Singapore; it facilitated this result. That should be our focus, but too many are hung up on questioning Sharif’s choices, as if migrant workers should only ever shut up and gratefully accept whatever we throw their way. Instead of questioning why a victim of harassment is paying the highest price out of everyone involved in this infuriating episode—the harasser hasn’t even been found!—we’re being gaslit into blaming said victim for not accepting the first job offer that came along, regardless of whether he thought it was a good fit for his skillset, abilities or physical condition.

(1.3) Burying the lede

I pricked up my ears (figuratively) on Thursday when I saw Sharif's update saying that Lawrence Wong had said he'd write to the authorities to ask them to give Sharif more time in Singapore. The new prime minister sending an appeal letter for a migrant worker stuck in an unfair position after having been a victim of harassment—the newsworthiness is obvious. It’s amusing (#SarcasmFlag), then, to see the effort put into distancing Wong from the unsuccessful appeal.

The ICA–MOM joint statement merely referred to an appeal by “a resident of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC”, without mentioning who this resident had gone to see and who had made the appeal on this resident’s behalf. The PAP Limbang branch followed up on the joint statement with a Facebook post of their own, confirming that this resident had spoken to Wong and that “the PAP Limbang branch had subsequently helped to convey the appeal”. The Straits Times—headline: “Special pass of migrant worker in loan shark case not extended further despite last-minute appeal”—also framed it as “an appeal made by a resident from Prime Minister Lawrence Wong’s constituency”, only mentioning that Sharif said the PM had written an appeal letter halfway down the story. The same goes with CNA. When I checked TODAY earlier, their headline had been “Migrant worker fired over 'loan shark' harassment leaves Singapore after failing in last-minute appeal through PM Wong”, but checking it again while writing this newsletter, the article appears to have been edited and the headline changed to remove mention of the prime minister.

(1.4) Questions remain

I still have so many questions about this whole thing:

  1. Who was this harasser, who not only went after Sharif and his initial employer with false claims, but also knew when Sharif was trying to switch companies—something Sharif believed only he, his old employer, the new employer and MOM knew about—and therefore harassed the new employer until they backed out of hiring him? What was their motivation? What was the police's difficulty in tracking this person down?
  2. MOM allowed Sharif on to the Temporary Job Scheme and confirmed via email that he could work, but why wasn’t he given an official TJS letter that other migrant workers on the scheme get? This had an impact on Sharif’s ability to secure work, because employers hesitated to hire him without the documentation they’re used to seeing. If MOM could write an email, what was the problem with giving him a letter?
  3. Since the prime minister has been approached about this case, what are his thoughts about what’s happened to Sharif? Does he think this is an unfair outcome, and if so, will his government be making any changes to the system so that such situations will not occur again? Or does he think it’s perfectly reasonable for a worker like Sharif to have been kicked out of Singapore despite having been a victim of harassment?


NTUDivest, a student movement pushing Nanyang Technological University to divest from fossil fuel, is questioning a $60 million lab at the university. This lab is a partnership between NTU, the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), the National Research Foundation and big oil company ExxonMobil, with a stated aim to “develop solutions that would help lower carbon emissions, contribute to resource efficiency and help build a more sustainable future”. The university told TODAY that this new lab is “an important platform bringing together researchers from academia and industry to translate knowledge into solutions that will benefit society by supporting the green energy transition and other areas of sustainability”.

In their latest statement on Instagram, NTUDivest explained why they’re so suspicious of NTU partnering with ExxonMobil: “False climate solutions embolden the oil giant’s ability to pollute more, slowing down our ability to participate in the net zero transition effectively. For example, investing in more carbon capture (one of the project’s ideas) is not a climate solution: it simply legitimises their core extractive business and encourages more resource exploitation.” The group says they’re not buying what NTU and ExxonMobil have said about this collaboration: “Their statements are full of vague motherhood statements and sustainability buzzwords, with no concrete data. Without evidence, and given past records, we doubt there is a genuine intention to do something for the climate.”


The rules around election advertising are being tightened for the upcoming general election. The Returning Officer will be allowed to order individuals and social media platforms to take down or block access to election advertising that breaks the rules. From 14 June on, election advertising will have to display the full name of every person who had an “active role” in putting the ad out there, whether they approved the content, printed it, or paid for it.

Ballot papers will also be adjusted so that there’ll be a bigger space for voters to chop with confidence.

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🧑🏻‍⚖️ Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh will go on trial in October for two charges of lying in Parliament to the Committee of Privileges. 16 days have been fixed for the trial so far.

🔧 Two workers have died after inhaling toxic hydrogen sulphide gas at PUB’s Choa Chu Kang Waterworks. Three workers collapsed after inhaling the gas while they were draining sludge from a pulsator tank. The third worker had been in ICU for awhile but is now stable.

🏳️‍🌈 The 16th Pink Dot will take place on 29 June 2024. This year, the theme is “No One Left Behind”, with a focus on highlighting the discrimination and marginalisation that members of Singapore’s LGBTQ+ community continue to face. Repealing 377A was a significant milestone in the long struggle for LGBTQ+ equality, but it hasn’t brought big change. If anything, the reactions of those in power following repeal only highlighted how little would change.

This year’s Pink Dot will also be inviting people to write letters to PM Lawrence Wong “to share their hopes for a more inclusive Singapore for LGBTQ+ people”.

🪩 The South Korean DJ NewJeansNim, who attracted the ire of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, will not be performing here anymore. His upcoming shows have been cancelled because NewJeansNim and the club weren’t able to arrive at an agreement over two tracks that contain religious elements.

Attended Pink Dot's launch on 29 May!

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