Activists say migrant worker feels imprisoned, suicide is the language of the voiceless

“Suicide, too, can be a form of resistance, like riots. They are the language of the voiceless," said activist Kokila Annamalai

While Singapore has entered the second phase of the post circuit breaker on 19 June, migrant workers continue to remain in the dormitories on their rest days. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said earlier on that this is to minimise the risk of a new wave of infections.

However, one migrant worker described being shut in the dormitory as being “in jail”, adding that the situation is “very frustrating”.

Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham took to his Facebook on Thursday (6 Aug) citing a quote from the migrant worker who was speaking in a video interview with Channel News Asia (CNA).

The migrant worker said, “It’s very frustrating, you are in jail, you don’t know why you are in jail, that makes it much worse, and you don’t know why you are in quarantine, and how long you have to stay in quarantine…

“When you can go back to the dormitory, when you can go back to work… Everybody just wants to go back to work. If you are alone, people think too much… So many things going on in your head but when you are at work, you will forget your problems.”

Referring to the interview, Mr Wham claimed that the migrant worker has been “imprisoned” in a room for three months despite being tested negative for the COVID-19 “twice”.

“The worker interviewed for this story was tested negative TWICE and yet he was imprisoned in a room, and not allowed to leave it for THREE WHOLE MONTHS. We need answers from MOH and MOM,” he asserted.

Meanwhile, activist Kokila Annamalai had also highlighted the gaps in communication among migrant workers who are being quarantined amid the COVID-19 pandemic in a Facebook post on 17 May.

She noted that some migrant workers have been moved from room-to-room or level-to-level within their dormitories without being informed of the reasons behind these actions.

Though the workers speculated that the actions were taken so that some rooms can be turned into isolation areas, they still hope that someone would explain to them on the whole agenda.

“Workers say the lack of information, and uncertainty around when they will be moved, is demoralising. They ask why no one bothers to explain things to them,” said Ms Annamalai.

Migrant workers went from negative to positive for COVID-19 after being housed with an infected worker from another company

Though migrant workers were given the assurance that they will be able to resume working if they remain uninfected with the virus, there were cases of migrant workers who were not immediately relocated to an isolation area after being tested positive for the virus.

In fact, one of the cases involved five migrant workers who have gone from negative to positive for the COVID-19 due to an infected worker from a different company – who shared the same room with them at Tuas South Dormitory – who was not immediately transferred to an isolation area.

The employer of the five migrant workers, Christy Soo, noted that the worker – who is from another company – had received a text message from the Ministry of Health (MOH) at 12.08pm on 24 July telling him that his swab test result turned out to be positive.

The worker, however, was not immediately transferred to an isolation area and was still being placed in the same room with the other workers who were “healthy” at the time.

“I contacted the dormitory operator, Tuas South Dormitory and they asked me to wait. Then I called MOH and they directed me to call MOTS,” said Ms Soo.

She had also advised the worker to report to FAST team and Inter-agency Task Force (ITF) about his case, but the worker was told that his employer had asked him to stay in the room.

Ms Soo updated the post on 25 July claiming that five of her workers – who shared the same room with the infected worker – have also been tested positive for the virus.

She claimed that before the case of the infected worker emerged, her workers had undergone both serology test and a swab test for a few times and their results came out negative.

“All of my workers have been quarantined since 13 April 2020 and have been placed in isolation since April. They stayed in the room for the past three and a half months (since 12 April 2020),” Ms Soo stated.

Reports on migrant workers attempting suicide emerged; but MOM said no spike in the number of migrant worker suicides

The prolonged confinement seems to also affect the mental state of migrant workers amid the pandemic, due to multiple reports of migrant workers attempting suicide that have surfaced in recent weeks.

A video of a Chinese migrant worker standing on top of the railing on the fourth floor of the dormitory building to attempt suicide had gone viral on 22 July. The incident reportedly took place at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol.

Two days later (24 July), another video of a Chinese migrant worker standing on top of the railing outside of the dormitory corridor to attempt suicide was circulated on social media.

While on 2 August, a 36-year-old migrant worker had allegedly slit his throat at his dormitory in Sungei Kadut. He was found lying at the bottom of a staircase in the dorm, covered in blood.

Nevertheless, the MOM claimed on 5 August that there is no spike in the number of migrant worker suicides compared to previous years, though it acknowledged the recent incidents of attempted suicides in migrant worker dormitories.

“While we have not observed a spike in the number of migrant worker suicides compared to previous years, we are monitoring the situation and are working closely with our partners and NGOs to enhance our mental health support programmes for the workers,” the Ministry told CNA.

Following that, Ms Annamalai said in a Facebook post yesterday that the Government has “effectively controlled the news cycle” and “distracted the public” from the increasing number of infections in the dorms with the General Election and the city-state’s reopening, but the suicide cases have brought migrant workers’ plight to the “forefront of Singapore’s consciousness again”.

“When our Ministers tell us that the number of suicides among migrant workers hasn’t risen, we should understand not that there is no crisis, or that there is no urgency to their suffering, but that this is a community for whom life is always in crisis, whose suffering has always been urgent, but unheard,” she wrote.

The activist remarked, “Suicide, too, can be a form of resistance, like riots. They are the language of the voiceless.”

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