Singapore lockdown highlights plight of migrant workers

Thousands have been quarantine. (AFP)
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Updated 10 April 2020

Singapore lockdown highlights plight of migrant workers

  • Nearly 20,000 migrant laborers, mostly from the construction industry, have been quarantined

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s move to lock down thousands of foreign workers has put a spotlight on their cramped and unhygienic dormitories, prompting rights groups to voice concerns that the substandard conditions endanger both their inhabitants and the broader community.

As the city-state fights to halt the spread of the coronavirus, nearly 20,000 migrant laborers, mostly from the construction industry, have been quarantined since Tuesday at two dormitories affected by the virus outbreak, according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

“MOM will assist the operators of S11 Dormitory @ Punggol as well as Westlite Toh Guan Dormitory to look after the well-being of their residents, such as ensuring that they get a timely supply of catered meals, and the premises are kept clean,” the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

Another dorm, Toh Guan Dormitory at Toh Guan Road East, which houses 4,500 workers, has been under quarantine since Monday.

An inter-agency task force with personnel from the Ministry of Health, National Environment Agency, Singapore Armed Forces, the Singapore Police Force and Migrant Workers’ Center has been set up to provide health care and food to the migrant laborers.

The dormitories have been a source of concern due to the large number of people they house, poor hygiene and the impossibility of imposing social distancing.


• Thousands of migrant workers have been quarantined at cramped dorms affected by coronavirus outbreak. • Inter-agency task force set up to provide them with health care and food.

Singaporean nongovernmental organization, the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), which provides services to migrant workers, said that keeping them in such living conditions created systemic vulnerabilities that “endanger the workers and the broader community.”

“Mega dorms house tens of thousands of workers. At any one time, residents have to share facilities e.g. toilets and eating areas with dozens of people ... the space per resident means safe physical distancing is extremely difficult,” HOME said in a statement.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told Arab News that it was time Singapore treated migrant workers with dignity and respect. He said that it should start with providing decent and safe accommodation for the workers that “don’t pack people like peas in a pod under conditions that make these people the first victims in an epidemic.”

“The Singaporean authorities can’t just wall off behind a quarantine line. Locking down a dormitory and waiting for people to call if they feel sick is neither adequate nor humane,” he said.  

Sreyashi Sen, a Singapore-based counselor on migrant workers, told Arab News that although the migrant workers’ living conditions are better than in other countries, their dorms were cramped.

“From my observation, each dorm would have three bunk beds in one room that fits at least six people,” she said. 

While hailing the government’s quarantine move as “circuit-breaker measures,” she said that the workers had been cooperative due to their low status in the country.

“The workers adhere more to rules and laws compared with expatriates in Singapore. They are at the lowest rung in the societal pyramid, so their fear of deportation is high,” Sen said.

McCann family seeks closure as Germany presumes Madeleine is dead

Updated 5 min 2 sec ago

McCann family seeks closure as Germany presumes Madeleine is dead

  • Madeleine McCann was three at the time of her disappearance in May 2007

LONDON: The family of missing British girl Madeleine McCann is seeking answers in the case after a key suspect was identified in Germany and as authorities there said Thursday they believe she is dead.
McCann was 3 at the time of her disappearance in May 2007 while she was on vacation with her family in Portugal.
UK and German authorities haven’t named the suspect but said he is 43 and currently in prison in Germany for another crime, and that he was in and around the Praia da Luz resort area on the Algarve coast at the time McCann disappeared. Though numerous suspects have come to light in the case previously, McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell said that it seems as if there is something different this time.
“In more than 13 years of working with the family I can’t recall the police being so specific about an individual,” Mitchell told Sky News. “He is not being named and the police are quite adamant they are not going to do that, certainly not yet, but they want very specific details around his movement in 2007, even down to phone calls he received the night before Madeleine went missing and the fact he changed the registration of his car the day after.”
Hans Christian Wolters, a prosecutor in Braunschweig, Germany, told reporters investigators are operating on the assumption that McCann is dead.
“In connection with the disappearance of the then 3-year-old British girl Madeleine Beth McCann on May 3, 2007 from an apartment complex in Praia da Luz in Portugal, Braunschweig prosecutors are investigating a 43-year-old German citizen on suspicion of murder,” he told reporters.
“You can infer from that we assume the girl is dead.”
The long-running case of McCann, who vanished shortly before her fourth birthday, has mesmerized Britain for years. Her parents say Madeleine disappeared after they had left her and her twin siblings asleep in their holiday complex while they had dinner with friends at a nearby restaurant.
More than 600 people had been identified as being potentially significant, but officers were tipped off about the German suspect following a 2017 appeal, 10 years after the girl went missing.
Police said the suspect, described as white with short, blond hair and a slim build, was linked to a camper van seen in the Algarve in 2007 and was believed to be in the resort area in the days before and after May 3 that year.
Christian Hoppe of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office told German public broadcaster ZDF that the suspect, a German citizen, is currently imprisoned in Germany for a sexual crime. He spent numerous years in Portugal and has two previous convictions for “sexual contact with girls.”
Hoppe said German police aren’t ruling out a sexual motive. They said whoever abducted the girl may have broken into the holiday apartment and then spontaneously committed the kidnapping.
The suspect is being investigated on suspicion of murder by prosecutors in the German city of Braunschweig, where he was last registered before moving abroad.
Wolters wouldn’t give any other details of the suspect’s identity so as not to jeopardize the ongoing investigation.
The description, however, fits that of a 43-year-old man who was convicted in December of the 2005 rape of an American woman, who was 72 at the time, in her apartment in Portugal, the local Braunschweiger Zeitung newspaper reported.
Hoppe said the suspect in the McCann case lived between Lagos and Praia da Luz, was regularly in the Algarve region from between 1995 to 2007. The newspaper, which covered the recent rape trial, said that description and other details match the suspect in that case, who was linked to the 2005 attack recently by DNA.
The suspect denied the charges during the trial and the verdict is currently being appealed. The court didn’t answer an email seeking comment or answer its phones.
Police from Britain, Germany and Portugal launched a new joint appeal for information in the case Wednesday. They asked for anyone to come forward if they had seen two vehicles linked to the suspect — a Volkswagen camper van and a Jaguar. They also sought information on two Portuguese phone numbers, including one believed to have been used by the suspect on the day of Madeleine’s disappearance.
The family, as ever, as searching for answers.
“They do remain hopeful that she could still be found alive,” Mitchell said. “They’ve never given up on that hope, nor will they, until they are presented with any incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. But they say that despite all that, whatever the outcome of this particular line of enquiry might be, they need to know as they need to find peace.”