COVID-19: NGO Think Centre urges govt to conduct active surveys on migrant workers, establish safe repatriation plans with embassies and consulates

Conducting an active survey of migrant workers in Singapore — especially those living in dormitories — and forming safe repatriation plans with embassies or consulates are some of the suggestions proposed by human rights and civil society non-governmental organisation (NGO) Think Centre.

In a statement earlier this month, Think Centre said — in light of the recent suicide attempts among migrant workers living in dormitories — that the “mental fatigue” that affects most of Singapore’s population at large as a result of COVID-19 measures is likely heightened among migrant workers as they are subject to additional restrictions.

“Even those not in quarantine are isolated in the confined space and conditions of dormitories in perpetual “Stay Home Notice”.

“They are also expected to adhere to a stricter control regime tied with punitive consequences in case of compliance failure,” said the NGO.

Ensuring better and fairer treatment of migrant workers during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in terms of giving them access to the necessary levels of physical and mental healthcare, will help mitigate or at least alleviate the burden they shoulder.

“Many of them still live in crowded conditions, face prolonged uncertainty over employment and income, risk of infection, it would be inevitable that their mental health would suffer.

“Furthermore, current conditions also risk exacerbating pre-existing health issues, disability and disease among these workers.

“Even with regular communication, migrant workers’ limited ability to help their families thousands of miles away heightens risks of anxiety and depression among them,” said Think Centre.

Establishing “a standing working group for the duration of the pandemic involving civil society organisations, trade unions, [and] employers” is among some of the ways in which the goal to better migrant workers’ living conditions can be materialised, the NGO suggested.

Such a group, said Think Centre, will “preemptively address the pandemic-driven issues of non-payment of salaries by employers, broaden social protection of migrant workers to mitigate disruptions such as sudden loss of job/income, and promote and protect their physical and mental wellbeing both at places of work and rest”.

Stakeholders such as migrant workers’ organisations, migrant-oriented services offered by faith-based organisations, professional counselling services, and language interpretation services should also be taken into account in such efforts, the NGO added.

Think Centre also proposed that the Government should work with the consulates and embassies “of the main sending States to develop a just and safe repatriation response plan” when dealing with the issue of “stranded migrant workers in distress who expressly wish to return to the country of their origins”.

The NGO noted that Singapore is a signatory to the recent ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, which obliges Singapore as a Receiving State to “protect the fundamental human rights, promote the welfare and uphold the human dignity of migrant workers through appropriate measures that ensure fair treatment towards migrant workers and prevent abuses, exploitation and violence towards them”.

Migrant workers in distress or those who know them may call the following helplines for assistance:

Migrant Workers’ Centre: 6536-2692

Healthserve: 3138-4443

Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

Institute of Mental Health’s Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

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