COVID-19: pandemic reflects severe inequality in Singapore

Zagir Hossen could not endure it.

Several weeks have passed since he was banned from sleeping with 11 others.

Empty room Only bunk beds There is enough towel to hang to give a feeling of privacy.

“All day and all night We are in the room It is very torturous. It’s like being in a prison, ”says Sagir.

“We cannot keep our social distance because there is no place.”

After being cured of COVID-19 He then returned to work and Zagir thought his nightmare would be over. His dorm is confirmed as free from COVID-19. Already in June

But came a month ago An infected person was found at his dormitory. He and thousands of other migrant workers were once again detained.

Singapore has been praised for its control over the novel coronavirus outbreak. But it failed when looking at the situation of transmission in foreign labor dormitories.

Several months passed There are few new cases in Singapore daily. People return to work Movie theaters resume Sometimes we hear a loud laugh coming from a restaurant.

But many low income people still have to stay in accommodation. Their lives are full of uncertainty.

City builder

Soon after Singapore was infected with the novel coronavirus in January, authorities started using applications to track infected people across the country. There was a warning and good communication with the people. Until Harvard University epidemiologists said that Singapore’s infection testing system was excellent until “Almost perfect”

But a crisis that most people cannot see has begun to form.

Singapore has less than 300,000 foreign workers from South Asia such as India and Bangladesh. Most of them work in the construction and manufacturing sectors.

They live together in a dormitory, have to sit in a van to work together. And work closely with each other This is a situation that will make the new corona virus spread very easily.

Before the COVID-19 crisis It is common for up to 20 workers to live in the same room. And the number of new infections among the general population is completely different from those in labor halls.

“Like any other epidemic, COVID-19 is a epidemic of inequality,” Mohandutta, a professor of journalism at the University of Massachusetts, told the BBC.

“The way we communicate For example telling two sets of numbers (The number of infected among the general population and in the foreign labor dormitories) makes the inequality even more evident. We could say that it is an example of making another group “It’s another” … “


Singapore authorities decided that the dormitory had to be shut down. Some 10,000 workers with good health go elsewhere. It’s a little bit of leftover labor that keeps the country moving.

But most of the workers were confined to dormitories. Some of them were even forbidden from leaving the room. Infected workers are separated and healed.

This is very different from the general population’s lockdown experience in that it is allowed to go shopping and exercise. While these workers were actually “locked down” with food being delivered to the room at each meal only.

This crisis forced the authorities to look at the living conditions of these workers. There are more donation programs. And the dormitory owners are trying to improve their housing for the better

A migrant worker sent pictures to the BBC to see how his room had been rearranged, lowering the bed from 15 to 8, another said fortunately his employer arranged for him to move to a hotel instead.

But Sakir from Bangladesh, who works as a construction project coordinator, Not so lucky

After recovering from COVID-19, Zagir said he returned to the dorm in his original state. He said that a room, six meters by seven meters, was inhabited by 12 people.

“People say we keep our social distance. But that turned out to be a joke for us, ”says Sagir.“ How do we keep our distance in a narrow room? ”

Each floor of the dormitory has 15 rooms, equivalent to 180 men living in full capacity. All of this has to be shared with the bathroom. There are only six washbasins, showers and urinals, while government practice states that one bathroom should be for 15 people.

“They asked us to keep it clean. But the soap dispenser has no soap left. “

The BBC has reached out to the host for comment but did not receive a response.

Dipaswami Nathan, founder of Its Raining Raincoats for the rights of migrant workers. Said that this living condition was a matter that existed for a long time

“We have never heard of this because they are the ones who do not mourn. They are grateful for what is here [in Singapore]. “

There have been reports of serious cases of attempted suicide, death and self-harm.

One of the videos – which the BBC cannot confirm – is an incident of a man standing by a dorm window before a roommate can bring him back.

“I saw someone in the dorm calling my family and saying that I couldn’t stand it. They cry He said he wanted to go home, ”says Sakir, who also founded a charity for immigrants.

Zagir said many workers are stressed because they are unable to leave. But there are families in the country of origin that depend on them for money.

The Singapore Labor Ministry told the BBC that For workers unable to go to work It may not make sense to expect the employer to pay the full wages. Therefore, both parties should reach an agreement. “Proper Employment Agreement” among themselves

Singapore authorities have promised that by the end of the year Residents of dormitories get at least 6 square meters of private space, each room must not have more than 10 beds, each bed must be at least 1 meter apart

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore Agree that dealing with the outbreak in the dorm was flawed. But it said that any form of cohabitation has to be at risk of epidemic.

Zagir still does not know when he will return to work. Now he just hopes to return to work. And improve the situation for foreign workers in Singapore

“A lot of us have been here for a long time. I’ve been here for 17 years. It’s like we’ve become a part of Singapore.”

“We are not asked to be treated as Singaporean citizens. Just treat us like you would treat another human being. As if we are part of society It would be great if possible. “