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Covid-19 Crisis Takes a Toll on Mental Health of Singapore’s Migrant Workers

August 5, 2020, 08.05 PM

SINGAPORE, – The mental health condition of migrant workers in Singapore has been spotlighted after images of a bloodied migrant who self-harmed sitting in a stairwell surfaced.

Thousands of low-paid migrant workers have been forcefully confined to dormitories as part of the Singaporean government’s measures to mitigate Covid-19 virus transmission.

In April, Singapore began sealing off its sprawling housing blocks, where large populations of migrant workers live, in an attempt to reduce Covid-19 cases among the workers.

Read also: Asian Countries Battling Second Wave of Coronavirus Infections

Migrant workers in Singapore are mostly South Asian laborers who live in crowded bunk rooms.

Four months on, some dormitories remain under quarantine and even migrants who have been declared virus-free have had their movements restricted and face uncertainty over the jobs on which their families back home depend.

Rights groups say this has taken a heavy mental toll on workers, pointing to recent reports that migrants have been detained under the mental health act after videos showed them perched precariously on rooftops and high window ledges.

"We've heard of the extreme distress due to the inability to provide for families, inability to service debts to money lenders and banks and inability to fund medical care for children and elderly parents," said Deborah Fordyce, president of migrant rights group, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).

"Many of the workers now say that the mental anguish is a more serious problem than the virus."

Singapore has recorded over 53,000 Covid-19 cases, mainly from dormitories in which around 300,000 workers from Bangladesh, India and China are housed.

Only 27 people have died from the disease in the city-state.

Read also: Singapore to Track Incoming Travellers Quarantine Compliance Via Electronic Device

Authorities have said they expect to lift quarantines on all dormitories this month, with the exception of some blocks serving as quarantine zones, and that 89 percent of workers have either recovered or are virus-free.

But reports and images published in local media on Wednesday of a man in blood-stained clothing at the foot of some stairs have fuelled concerns about the mental toll of the lockdowns.

Singapore's Ministry of Manpower — which has overseen the quarantines — said it was aware of the incident in which a worker had "harmed himself", adding that he was now in a "safe and stable condition". Police said the 36-year-old man was detained under the mental health act.

Checks had found there was no indication the man was in distress prior to the incident or was owed any salary, the ministry said in a statement, urging workers not to "act rashly" and reach out to non-governmental organizations for help.

The ministry did not immediately have further comment, but referred to previous remarks saying it was working with NGOs to address mental health needs of migrants by providing services including counseling.

(Writer: John Geddie | Editor: Lincoln Feast)


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