|There are more than 26,000 recorded cases of Covid-19 cases in Singapore. The vast majority are migrant workers who live in crowded dormitories. As was reported previously on this platform (see 22 April update on Singapore), there are 43 migrant worker dormitories in Singapore, which house around more than 200,000 male workers holding a work permit (with no permanent residency). In total there are an estimated 1.4 million migrant workers in the country. Each dorm houses about 10 to 20 residents, who share toilet and shower facilities, eat in common areas and sleep just feet away from each other. In this context, it is impossible to conduct social distancing.
On 14 April 2020, the government placed all migrant worker quarters in quarantine and moved those who tested positive or showed symptoms out of the dorms for treatment. Around 7,000 workers were also moved into alternative accommodation such as military camps, floating hotels and vacant government apartments.||2020|
|J. Yeung & I. Yee, “Tens of Thousands of Singapore’s Migrant Workers are Infected. The Rest are Stuck in Their Dorms as the Country Opens Up,” CNN, 15 May 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/14/asia/singapore-migrant-worker-coronavirus-intl-hnk/index.html|
|A Migrant Dormitory Seen from Far, (Roslan Rahman, AFP, Getty Images, "Singapore's Migrant Workers are Suffering the Brunt of the Country's Coronavirus Outbreak," CNN, 25 April 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/24/asia/singapore-coronavirus-foreign-workers-intl-hnk/index.html)|
|As of April 21, there were 9,125 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Singapore. Although Singapore has often been praised for its efforts to contain the virus, the positive effects of such containment have not reached all sectors of society equally. For instance, more than 50 percent of people who had contracted COVID-19 reportedly are work permit holders. The organization Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) has highlighted the disproportionate nature of this statistic, given that work permit holders make up only 1 million out of nearly 6 million people in the country, and usually tend to be younger, healthier, adults.
Jolovan Wham from the NGO Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) told the Global Detention Project (GDP) that there do not appear to have been changes to immigration detention policy, nor has the government announced any such changes. In Singapore, people liable or subject to removal due to immigration-related offences can be detained in any prison, police station, or immigration depot, or any other place appointed for the purpose by the Controller of Immigration.
There had not been any cases of COVID-19 in prisons as of 10 April 2020. The government has taken measures to prevent the spread of the virus. According to a report by Channel News Asia, all inmates undergo two daily temperature checks, and measures have been put in place to ensure safe distancing. Inmates feeling unwell are given masks and immediately separated and monitored; if they develop symptoms set out by the Ministry of Health's case definition of COVID-19, they will be tested for the virus. All newly admitted inmates are housed separately from the general population and monitored for 14 days.
Singapore has not signed the Refugee Convention and has not passed any domestic legislation for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers. Its economy relies heavily on migrant domestic work and labourers. John Gee from TWC2 told GDP: “Those who are judged to be present illegally will normally be overstayers - people who came on a tourist visa or work permit and remained in Singapore after the visa or work permit expired. They may be imprisoned; male overstayers aged under 50 may be caned, and sent back to their countries of origin. Work permit holders are not eligible for Singapore citizenship, no matter how long they reside in the country, and maximum terms of employment are laid down for them. None of these policies have changed during the COVID-19 outbreak.”
In terms of changes to immigration policy, all travellers entering Singapore (including Singapore citizens, permanent residents, or long-term pass holders) are required to be quarantined in government-designated facilities. The cost for staying in these facilities will be overed by the government, apart from those of people who left Singapore on or after 27 March 2020, on the basis that these travellers disregarded prevailing travel advice not to leave the country.
On deportations, Debbie Fordyce from TWC2 told GDP: "In general, immigration offenders are expected to remain in Singapore (after serving time if the overstay period warrants a prison term) for the duration of the investigation into the hiring or harbouring of an immigration offender. The person would be required to purchase his own ticket home at the conclusion of that investigation. With the suspension of flights, we assume that immigration offenders would remain in Singapore until flights to his country of origin resume.”
There are 43 migrant worker dormitories in Singapore, which house around 280,000 male workers holding a work permit (with no permanent residency). Employer companies, such as construction companies, pay for workers to be lodged and fed in these dormitories, which are operated by private companies. The majority of work permit holders with COVID-19 have contracted the virus in these dormitories, which have long been criticised for substandard, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions. Indeed, civil society organizations and migrant workers had previously warned that these dormitories presented perfect conditions for widespread transmission of infection. In one recent report by AFP, one migrant worker interviewed said: "One small room with 12 people living together... how can we make social distance?" In a press release on 18 April 2020, the Singaporean Ministry of Health announced that there were 0 imported cases, 22 cases in the community, 27 cases of work permit holders residing outside dormitories, in comparison to 893 cases of work permit holders residing in dormitories.
The Singaporean government has attempted to roll out measures to contain the virus outbreak in dormitories. In a press release on 5 April 2020, the Ministry of Health issued a press release indicating that S11 Dormitory and Westlite Toh Guan dormitory, which together house 19,000 workers, would be gazetted as isolation areas and thereby locked down. It further stated: “Access to recreational facilities will be regulated to reduce the inter-mixing of workers. Movement between blocks is prohibited. Workers have also been advised to cease social interactions with others who do not reside in the same room or floor.” Human rights groups have highlighted that such restrictions may endanger workers who remain uninfected.
On 16 April 2020, the Manpower Minister Josephine Teo announced a three-prong government strategy on Facebook, including locking down all dormitories, separating infected clusters from non-infected clusters and enforcing social distancing within dormitories, and moving out around 7000 workers in essential services who are still required by their employers to work. In terms of concrete measures, the Minister stated that officers of the Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Police Force and Singapore Ministry of Manpower, comprising FAST teams, would implement safe distancing measures. Additionally, the government will enhance medical support within dormitories, including providing care to people who are unwell and swabbing those who have symptoms. Finally, it said that FAST teams would eventually ensure that workers are able to remit money home. The government has also announced that all workers in dormitories will be tested for COVID-19.
However, civil society organizations argue that the government’s measures are too little, too late, and will ultimately fail to protect migrant workers while simultaneously severely curtailing their rights. Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) has criticised the government’s virus containment (what it calls “circuit-breaker”) measures for affording leniency to citizens, who are able to leave home for exercise and essential errands, while severely restricting the rights of workers living in dormitories, which will all be locked down regardless if they are a virus cluster. Such workers have already reported deteriorating physical and mental health resulting from prolonged isolation (up to 22 hours a day) in rooms with up to 12 people. It has also criticised the government for only releasing 7000 workers, which comprise less than 1% of the total migrant workforce, out of dormitories or for providing them with separate housing.
HOME has called on the government to reduce the density of dormitories, and to ensure that the maximum capacity of dormitory rooms is reduced from 12 to 4 workers. TWC2 has also called for conditions in migrant worker accomodation to be improved, “not only to prevent the rapid spread of any future infection among the workers, but as a matter of basic respect for their humanity.” It has also called for an end to the transportation of workers to and from workplaces in the backs of trucks, in favour of vans with safety belts; broadened access to care without fear of employer retribution; and salary raises.||2020|
|Amnesty International, “Singapore: Over 20,000 migrant workers in quarantine must be protected from mass infection,” Amnesty International, 6 April 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/singapore-migrant-workers-quarantine-protected-mass-infection/|
|AFP, “Singapore migrant workers live in fear as virus hits dorms,” Bangkok Post, 9 April 2020, https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/1896480/singapore-migrant-workers-live-in-fear-as-virus-hits-dorms|
|Debbie Fordyce (Transient Workers Count Too), Interview with Jun Pang (Global Detention Project), 21 April 2020.|
|K. Han, “Covid forces Singapore to confront conditions for its migrant workers,” The Lowy Institute, 8 April 2020, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/covid-forces-singapore-confront-conditions-its-migrant-workers|
|L. Lam, “Crime-fighting during COVID-19: Precautions taken in prisons, police stations and courts,” Channel News Asia, 20 April 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/crime-fighting-covid-19-precautions-prisons-police-station-court-12658234|
|Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics, “Government’s three-pronged strategy to stop the spread: Plugging the gaps,” Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics, 18 April 2020, https://www.home.org.sg/statements/2020/4/18/governments-three-pronged-strategy-to-stop-the-spread-plugging-the-gaps|
|J. Teo, “Three-pronged strategy to manage Covid-19 spread at the dormitories,” Facebook, 16 April 2020, https://www.facebook.com/Josephine.LM.Teo/posts/3698002320274036?__tn__=-R|
|Ministry of Health Singapore, “Additional measures to minimise further spread of Covid-19 within foreign worker dormitories,” Ministry of Health Singapore, 5 April 2020, https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/additional-measures-to-minimise-further-spread-of-covid-19-within-foreign-worker-dormitories|
|Jolovan Wham (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics), Interview with Jun Pang (Global Detention Project), 21 April 2020.|
|Transient Workers Count Too, “More than half of Singapore’s Covid-19 cases are migrant workers,” Transient Workers Count Too, 17 April 2020, http://twc2.org.sg/2020/04/17/more-than-half-of-singapores-covid-19-cases-are-migrant-workers/|
|A Dormitory for Migrant Workers in Singapore in 2015, (Kirsten Han, The Interpreter, "Covid forces Singapore to Confront Conditions for its Migrant Workers," https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/covid-forces-singapore-confront-conditions-its-migrant-workers)|