What’s happening in the dormitories? What are we doing and is it enough?
First of all, an apology to our readers that it took us so long to put up this article, there were a lot of private requests for us to touch on the dormitory issues. It’s a very important issue to all of us here in Singapore, but it’s also a very sensitive issue, especially now. We sat on our writer’s block for a long time on how we can write this article without being bias and most importantly, not to stir up the already presence of anger and sadness among the people and at the same time clearly bringing to the public’s awareness and understanding of this distress from different points.
Firstly, there are already a lot of articles out there regarding the high spike rate of Covid-19 cases in these dormitories and most of these articles are written (or questioned) with political agenda and politically-biased. Secondly, there are a lot of humanity organisations also publishing their articles questioning how much (or how little) assistance are granted to these foreign workers during this moment. Third and lastly, no one feels good reading any articles which shows social inequality and are bond to be angered or sadden by these articles in a way or another. Thus, while the topics on dormitories might be the most engaging topic for now, but it’s also one of those very challenging topic for any socially-responsible writer to pen.
While many argued that the living environment of these foreigners should have been emphasized and dealt with in the earliest moment, but what’s the point of establishing who’s right or who’s wrong especially when it already happened. The most important issue at hand is how to deal with it, shouting over the megaphone with “I already told you so” is not going to be of any help. While most of us might not be able to extend any real “physical” help out there in the dormitories now, we hope that our article can shed some light from different perspectives.
While most of us are affected by the high spike rate in dormitories and might be barking at the wrong tree, blaming or questioning what the relevant authorities and our government are doing for these foreginers now. But we need to acknowledge that most of us are not channeling our questions to the right people who should be really responsive and responsible for this incident. This is not an issue where we can go “solo” and be “hero”, Covid-19 is bigger than anything we have seen during our time. We need to work hand-in-hand with the right people and right assistance to get all of us through this.
When two countries agree on a “foreign labour” policy, both are willing parties and both seek causes and clauses for mutual benefits and also the well being of their countries. Thus during such crisis, both countries involved should be extending their assistance to these foreigners in Singapore now. As much as our government and all the relevant agencies are trying to do the best for this community now, countries’ embassy should remain open to assist their people. A quick check with these embassies revealed that some of these embassies are closed for now (most of them plainly stated as “complying to Singapore’s Government’s “Circuit Breaker” as a reason for their closure).
If an embassy can stay closed during crisis time, then it’s not fit to be an embassy representing it’s people in another country. This shows who is doing a bad job but taking up responsibility, and who’s not doing any job by simply running away from responsibility. In fact, embassies should be extending their operation hours now to assist their people through this bad patch together with Singaporeans.
To assist Singapore in our fast-paced and population-declining society, we have included “foreign labor” policies since decades back, so this is not a new policy of recent time, this has been our existing policy for a long time. Covid-19 did not spiked up because these foreigners, Covid-19 spiked up in dormitory cluster because of cultural behaviours, lack of awareness and urgency, and living conditions.
We need to understand that although these policies, were initiated by the government of these countries, the ground work, deployment and engagement of these foreigners are undertaken by private companies and establishments. So it’s not wrong to say that now in the dormitories’ case, these private dormitory’s operators should be responsible for ignoring and failing to preamplify this very possible scenario of high infestation of Covid-19 in these dormitories. Welfare, attention and awareness should have been placed as first priority of these operaters before it even worsen to this current state.
Now that these authorities have stepped in and doing what they can do, these authories and agencies became the figure-head for criticisms and blaming. While most of us can’t be there in the frontline helping these foreigners, as a civilized person, we should spare our criticisms (at least for a better time later) and let these frontline people perform their duties wholly without any more emotional blamings. Regardlessly, these private operators need be held responsible for this outbreak in dormitories. Period.
Most of us would have noticed the number of Filipinos hanging out in Lucky Plaza started to decrease even before the “Circuit Breaker” came in place, same likewise for the Myanmar crowd in Penisula Plaza and other foreigners’ favourite meeting grounds. But unfortunately, Little India remains that crowded and populated even up to the last day just before “Circuit Breaker”.
We need to understand that although there are newly contracted foreign domestic workers among these Filipinos and Myanmars, most of them have served several contracts here in Singapore before or these new ones are also socially connected to those who have served longer terms. Information and updates reach them faster and more efficiently. And being a domestic helper, they are more connected to information and sources from the families they are working in as well. Thus one almost see a very effective and efficient self-imposed social distancing measures undertaken by these domestic helpers, vacating their favourite haunts at the drop of the pin.
Comparing to the Filipinos and Myanmars, majority of these Indian foreign workers are mostly on single term employment and new, thus their information arrives later than those compared to Filipinos and Myanmars. As commonly seen, their cultural gestures and behaviours also engaged them in a much closer physical proximity than others. Thus specifically, this group became one of the prime target to Covid-19, not because of race or dormitories, but because of age long cultural gestures and behaviours. While these behaviors are not to be discriminated, we also need to acknowledge that these behaviours is one of the main reason which led to a spike up in transmission of Covid-19 among this particular foreign worker group in Singapore.
For those who have studied abroad or worked abroad for long time, we would have some connection and engagement to certain clubs or associations or groups related to Singapore. Simply for a Sense of Countryhood and Belonging while faraway in another Foreign Country. Similarly, it’s not hard to understand and accept these foreigners hanging out in their favourite huants, for they too are seeking their sense of countryhood and belonging while away from home. But unfortunately, for the very same reason that anyone of us (regardless of races) desired to stay connected to a “home” group, Covid-19 also used this to quickly infiltrate into this particular group.
Recent footages from social media which show law enforcers in India using canes on citizens in public may have shocked most of us in Singapore. Yet, we have also seen footages of people arguing with the authorities, and simply refusing to listen to instructions. Whether these behaviour warrants a canning is an entirely different debate. However, what these citizens are doing is surely making public servants job even more strenuous, especially in a critical period such as this.
On the contrary, the police in Singapore usually aim to settle the matter verbally, and force is only applied when physical threats to the officer, the public, or even the offender himself, are present. This has perhaps misled foreigners, especially those where harsh physical punishments are liberally applied, to think that law enforcement measures are soft in Singapore, and can be brushed over easily. As such, warnings by our officers are ignored and these groups will simply find another location to gather, flouting the guidelines for social distancing.
Covid-19 did not started initially from these dormitories, but were transmitted and carried around and further carried into these dormitories, we need to understand that Covid-19 infestation in this group spiked to such a great and rapid number due to many reasons. Regardless of whatever underlying reasons which the authorities have yet to investigate, it’s pressing to do what must be done first for the welfare and safety of these foreigners.
Written by : Mike Koh
Edited by : Huang Yushan / Ling Weiming
Published on : 17/04/2020
Image : Source / Taiga Ishii – unsplash.com