21 August 2020
Singapore celebrated our National Day this month, with many paying tribute to the migrant workers who have contributed to laying the foundations of this country. As the COVID-19 testing has completed for all foreign workers in the dormitories, the government has declared entire dormitories cleared of the infection. Yet the many weeks of isolation and movement control regulations has taken its toll on the workers’ mental health. The uncertainty of their employment, health status and being unable to provide for their families back home has been extremely unnerving.
Even though the government has cleared dormitories, many workers are still unable to start work. Companies are trying to adjust their operations to factor in COVID-19 control measures, construction materials are not available, these are some of the reasons why construction projects have not commenced. No work means no salary for the workers. Many are sole breadwinners and their families back in their home countries simply have no other means to live on. The pressure is immense for the workers. The debilitating mental health situation garnered attention as workers took to posting on social media, prompting responses from the public and the government.
The disproportionate impact of the pandemic is greatly affecting migrant workers. In this video, Lynette tells us how HAGAR is helping migrant workers in Singapore, some of whom have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labour. Find out what motivates her to persevere in caring for the oppressed and afflicted.
Video by OurBetterWorld
Till date, a new spate of COVID infections have been discovered in a dorm that was previously given the all clear from the virus. As more companies and construction sites begin to restart operations by the end of August, we hope to help as many workers be able to return to work. Before workers can resume work, they are required to install several apps on their mobile phones to aid in contact tracing efforts. However, many of their devices do not have the capacity to load the apps. If you have an unused mobile phone in good working condition that has at least a 32GB capacity, please donate it to enable a worker to resume work. Only phones with chargers will be accepted. Thank you for your generosity!
17 July Update
Infection numbers continue to rise as with the number of recovered patients. Average new daily cases continue to hover around 300, bringing the total national tally to 47,453. To date, about 90% of patients have recovered, migrant workers living in dormitories make up the majority of cases.
Yet, though the situation has improved and Singapore has moved into the Phase 2 reopening of the economy, many workers find themselves unable to return to work. Till now, only 15% of construction workers are able to resume work. This is because of the supply chain disruptions that have affected the availability of raw materials. Adding to that, construction businesses have to change their operations to meet the new safety measures introduced to minimise the transmission of COVID-19, and the government is phasing the resumption of construction projects in order to curb the pandemic.
Struggling with basic needs, the workers have not been able to send money home for the last 4 months since Singapore’s circuit breaker began in April. Many of them have not been paid their salaries even though businesses are strongly encouraged to pay their workers with the levy rebates given by the Singapore government. Their families are relying on them completely for support as countries such as India and Bangladesh, where most of the workers are from, remain in strict lockdown measures and therefore, remain helpless. With such immense pressure back home, these workers are facing tremendous stress and anxiety. They live from day to day, fearing they might lose their jobs and be repatriated, and worry daily about their ongoing housing cost and basic living needs.
HAGAR continues to assist these workers throughout this period, providing food assistance, daily living essentials, economic support and counselling help. HAGAR also works closely with other NGOs to provide additional support for workers with existing injuries or medical conditions.
We are thankful for the support that many have shown in this crisis. Please help by sharing these ongoing updates with friends and family who may like to support these migrant workers through practical ways. Click here to make a donation and help them tide through this difficult period. Thank you for your support!
3 June Update
A beautiful tapestry of hope shines through the grim COVID-19 pandemic.
Since April when Singapore went into the circuit breaker, Singapore has been seeing large daily numbers of COVID-19 infections amongst the foreign workers living in dormitories. As it stands, the total tally has surpassed 36,000 infections. As swiftly as the coronavirus infiltrated into Singapore, out from this crisis birthed unprecedented response from the Singapore community; people from all walks of life stepping forward to join the ranks of the COVID-19 front-line army. Chipping in however they can, people have been pouring out their support in all sorts of ways.
Literally lending their hands, young and old, male and female have taken to the needle and thread to sew masks for the migrant workers. Businesses have donated cleaning detergents, mozzie sprays, medicated oils, hand sanitisers and masks. Individual groups have rallied together to raise funds for purchase of essential face masks and food snacks to provide some comfort to the workers who are stuck in their rooms. Non-profit organisations are sharing their resources and experience, helping each other out to provide help more efficiently and effectively in a collaborated approach.
The Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach (AGWO) has been providing cooked meals to the migrant workers. Working tirelessly around the clock, AGWO volunteers have been packing in the wee hours so that the food is ready and served hot to the workers right from the time the sun rises. Along with AGWO, HAGAR has been helping to fund some of these daily meals for workers living in factory converted dormitories (FCDs) so that there is enough food for these workers who have less access to support. To date, HAGAR has supplied more than 18,000 meals.
Benefitting from HealthServe’s experience in conducting counselling via online means, HAGAR started running tele-counselling services, providing emotional support to distressed female migrant workers, a group that has unfortunately been overlooked in the nation-wide crisis response. We are deeply grateful for the invaluable advice from the HealthServe team and sharing of experiences that has helped us to overcome the same technical and logistical challenges they had faced and get this service going faster. Currently, we are managing a high volume of sign-ups for the tele-counselling service from foreign domestic workers. Majority of these workers have lost their jobs or income due to COVID-19 and are currently housed in dedicated women shelters. The tele-counselling sessions are conducted with the help from HAGAR volunteer counsellors, social workers, psychologists and translators, who have been backing the ongoing work of HAGAR even before the COVID-19 times.
With the outpouring of support and donations of essential items such as face masks and hand sanitisers and other basic daily supplies, organisations like MiG Counselling Care & Consultancy Ltd and Migrant X Me started channelling their resources and contacts to HAGAR to receive the vital supplies needed for migrant workers whom we are assisting in various purpose-built dormitories, FCDs, shophouses and other premises. Responding to the initial shortage of surgical masks as a result of production halts overseas, Tamar Village, Sowing Room and Hands of Hope Asia took upon themselves the monumental task of producing more than 3,000 reusable face masks within a short two weeks! Hearing the call, volunteers from as young as 10 years old to others as old as 87 years old jumped on the bandwagon, sewing reusable cloth masks to meet the demand and short timeline.
In rallying support from the public, individuals, church groups and companies organised creative online fundraising campaigns, encouraging donations from the Singapore community to help the migrant workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. At HAGAR, we are completely humbled by the efforts that came through from so many kind-hearted folks.
From the worst of the coronavirus crisis, we experienced the best in humanity. While this present crisis amongst foreign workers living in dormitories could be seen as avoidable if better housing and treatment was given to workers in the first place, we are thankful for the camaraderie displayed across all segments in society in this time of crisis response. Putting aside all our individual and organisational identities, it is clear in everyone’s minds that what matters most at this time is to give a helping hand to fellow brothers in the community, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.
On behalf of all the migrant workers and their families – THANK YOU for uniting as One Singapore, showing the true Majulah spirit and displaying the best of humanity. SGunited, together we can overcome!
17 May Update
The number of COVID-19 cases among foreign workers in Singapore continues to rise, taking the country’s total to 28,038. Total number of fatalities from the disease is 22. However, the good news is that the number of new cases in the community has gone down significantly to a single digit count. A total of 9,340 people have fully recovered from the infection.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore, the government’s multi-ministry taskforce and NGOs spared no effort in providing support to the foreign workers who have been most affected by the crisis; more than 90% of infections are found in foreign workers living in dormitories.
Besides providing food and essential supplies to foreign workers in purpose-built dormitories, over the past two weeks, HAGAR has also expanded its reach to workers who have less access to support, i.e. foreign workers living in factory-converted dormitories (FCDs) and shophouses, and female migrant workers staying in dedicated women shelters. Through the tele-counselling sessions, the male workers highlighted the shortage of food and basic necessities. They have no money for food and rent, much less sending money home to their families. Though employed, many have only received a portion of their salary during the circuit breaker period. From the women’s end, their worries are about their jobs and children back in their home countries; many have lost their jobs during this circuit breaker and are hoping to find alternative employment quickly after the movement restrictions loosen when the circuit breaker ends after 1st June.
Vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, eggs, chicken, fish, beef, cooking oil, spices and more – truckloads of food, surgical masks, hand sanitisers and feminine items for female workers were delivered to the workers this week. Especially for Muslim workers who are celebrating Ramadan later this week, we hope the food supplies will bring them comfort and joy.
Since the start of the circuit breaker on 7 April, HAGAR has received overwhelming encouragement from donors with donations in kind and funds to keep the recovery services going for our beneficiaries. Every other day, we have been receiving at our doorstep, deliveries of donations of face masks, hand sanitisers, Vitamin C, and other basic necessities for the migrant workers. Volunteers and donors busy themselves sewing reusable cloth masks to ensure that the workers will never run out of face masks.
In spite of the economic and social upheaval caused by the coronavirus, the many tales of triumph and kindness showed by the Singapore community give great reason for hope that a new and better world will emerge from this pandemic.
1 May Update
The number of COVID-19 cases among migrant workers living in dormitories have swelled in recent weeks, bringing the national tally to 17,101 as of 1st May. To date, more than 80% of the total cases in Singapore are migrant workers.
Singapore is in its fourth week of a “circuit breaker” period to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Safe distancing measures have been tightened and the circuit breaker extended by another four weeks to 1 June. Most work places and schools remain closed and people have shifted to working and learning from home during this time. They are not to leave their homes except for essential activities such as buying food and groceries.
While the number of new daily cases in the community has reduced, the number of new infections in foreigner worker dormitories continue to be a challenge.
Several new measures by the Singapore Government are in the pipeline to provide ongoing care to infected workers. These steps include setting up of community care facilities within the most affected dormitories for COVID-19 positive migrant workers who are clinically well or display mild symptoms, on-site community recovery facilities to look after patients who are no longer infectious, and rehousing of recovered workers in different locations or designated blocks within their dormitories.
In the past week, HAGAR has expanded its support to more than 3,000 migrant workers, providing them with hot meals and vital supplies to keep them healthy and protected. The distribution of supplies includes essential face masks, hand sanitisers, cleaning and laundry detergents, insecticide, and comfort home snacks such as murukku.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many volunteer groups have come forward to pledge their support for migrant workers. From sponsoring essential supplies, buying meals for workers, to donating their government payouts and producing reusable masks, men and women including children have taken up the responsibility to do their part to protect the migrant workers in Singapore.
Besides addressing their basic needs, HAGAR is also paying close attention to the mental health of quarantined workers. From 1st May, HAGAR is rolling out tele-support services to female migrant workers in the dormitories. Conducted by trained volunteer counsellors, social workers and translators, the tele-support is aimed at addressing their fears and concerns, providing them with the necessary emotional support to cope with this difficult period.
19 April Update
Over the past few days, Singapore has seen a staggering surge in COVID-19 infections amongst migrant workers concentrated in dormitories. As of 19 April, the total number of confirmed cases stands at 6,588.
In Singapore, there are about 200,000 migrant workers in purpose-built dormitories and 90,000 in factory-converted dormitories. These vulnerable migrant workers are at risk of catching the virus largely due to the density of population in these dormitories. Over the past week, the Singapore Government has been working extensively to relocate these workers to improved living spaces.
To date, Hagar has assisted some 1,700 affected migrant workers and existing HAGAR clients with care packs comprising essential face masks, hand sanitisers and Vitamin C. Clients who have lost their jobs or income as a result of the pandemic are also receiving additional economic and healthcare support during this critical period. In the upcoming week, HAGAR will also commence providing tele-counselling and hot meals to workers staying in dormitories.
Working collaboratively with other NGOs to support the migrant workers during this crucial time, we have seen incredible support from the local community working through ground-up initiatives and donation drives to ensure the well-being of our foreign workers, in the true spirit of SG United.
15 April Update
The circuit breaker has been imposed in Singapore from 7 April until 4 May. Non-essential businesses are now closed, people must stay home and minimise travel and wear masks if they have to go out. Social gatherings are strictly prohibited during this period.
All HAGAR staff are currently working from home. Even though all group programmes have been suspended, we continue to provide essential counselling and training to our clients through video-conferencing.
As of 15 April, there are 3,699 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with a death toll of 10. Despite the best efforts and stringent measures taken by the Singapore Government to contain the disease spread, Singapore continues to see a sharp spike in daily cases, with the majority from foreign worker dormitories where low-wage migrant workers are staying in.
To protect the workers, many of these foreign worker dormitories have been gazetted isolation areas. HAGAR is currently responding to the elevated needs amongst the migrant community, providing essential supplies like face masks, sanitisers, Vitamin C and mental support to distressed workers together with partner NGOs and independent community groups. Migrant workers are a vulnerable segment of population in Singapore. Experiencing immense stress during this time of isolation, workers fear catching the disease and losing their jobs should they fall ill. When this happens, it would mean they would be repatriated and lose their only source of hope for their families back home.
To date, HAGAR’s clients staying in foreign worker dormitories are safe. However, a number of them are no longer able to work due to the closure of non-essential businesses. With no job and loss in income, the clients are anxious about not being able to send money home to their waiting families.
Single-handedly supporting her entire family’s daily living needs and seeing her 6 younger siblings through school, Rani sought work in Singapore four years ago, but found herself trafficked and exploited by her employers.
Upon rescue from trafficking and placed under HAGAR’s care subsequently, Rani has regained her self-esteem under the pursuing love from her case worker and counsellor and took up a dishwashing job to continue earning an income to support her big family back home. A keen learner and conscientious worker, Rani is highly motivated to pick up new skills. Just 2 months ago, we managed to find her an extraordinary job opportunity as office administrator in a multi-national HR firm where the employer is willing to train and help her develop core competencies in office skills, uplifting her personal capacities to build a sustainable future.
However, she is now stranded due to the circuit breaker measures. Unable to start on her new job, there is mounting pressure to still send money home to her family, where everyone is depending on her.
Undeterred, Rani’s caseworkers together with two volunteers are currently providing Rani coaching in the English Language and computer skills through video-conferencing. HAGAR is also supporting Rani with basic food assistance during this period when she has no income.
“Thank you so much that you never give up on me. I never think I can one day work in the office. I will definitely work hard, thank you for believing in me.”
At 23, a positive and cheerful young lady, one would hardly see Rani upset even when curveballs are thrown at her. With her attitude of gratitude and spirit of excellence, we are hopeful for a positive turn in the situation so that she can start work soon!
Hagar pursues the highest degree of care and protection for each of its clients. To protect the identity of our clients, names have been changed and images do not necessarily represent the individual profiled.