More than 300,000 migrant workers, mostly from Bangladesh, India and China, had been placed in lockdown in their dormitories since April
The Singapore government has said it is monitoring the situation after recent incidents of ‘unnatural deaths’ involving migrants amidst concerns over the mental health of thousands of foreign workers confined to their dormitories due to COVID-19.
More than 300,000 migrant workers, mostly from Bangladesh, India and China, had been placed in lockdown in their dormitories since April as part of the government’s strategy to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In recent weeks, there have been questions about the state of workers’ mental health following at least three reports of unnatural deaths, according to Channel News Asia (CNA).
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday it has not observed a spike in the number of migrant worker suicides compared to previous years, although it is aware of recent incidents involving workers living in dormitories.
The MOM said its Forward Assurance and Support Teams – public officers stationed at the dormitories — have stepped up efforts to proactively look for residents whom they assess may benefit from speaking to a mental health counsellor .
While we have not observed a spike in the number of migrant worker suicides compared to previous years, we are monitoring the situation and are working closely with our partners and NGOs to enhance our mental health support programmes for the workers.
On July 24, a 37-year-old Indian worker was found dead at 512 Old Choa Chu Kang Road. According to the police, this is a case of an unnatural death and investigations are ongoing.
In May, a 27-year-old migrant worker from Bangladesh was found motionless at a factory converted dormitory in Kranji.
A few weeks before that, a 46-year-old Indian national died from his injuries after being found motionless at a staircase landing at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.
Videos have also circulated online, with some showing workers standing precariously on rooftops and high ledges.
One of the videos, posted sometime around July 22, shows a worker standing on a ledge at PPT Lodge 1B dormitory in Seletar, according to the Channel report.
The worker, who was staying in a block that was cleared of COVID-19, had bought a flight ticket home on his own and became agitated when his employer was not facilitative of his return.
A dispute occurred as the worker did not discuss with his employer his intention to return home, the MOM had said. He was allowed to leave Singapore the next day.
On August 2, another worker had appeared to harm himself at his dormitory in Sungei Kadut. Photos circulating online show a man lying bloodied on a stairwell.
“Checks by the MOM found that the worker had no salary arrears, and his food and accommodation were provided for. There was also no indication that he was in distress before the incident,” the Ministry said.
There have been more cases of workers trying to harm themselves or who have expressed a desire to do so because of the stressful situation, according to Justin Paul, a mental health programme manager at HeahlthServe, a non-profit organisation.
HealthServee has seen an increase in the number of workers tapping their mental health services.
In April, 71 workers reached out to them through their virtual advisory sessions, counselling services and online group therapy sessions.
It saw 244 workers in June and 207 in July. In total, HealthServe received queries from about 750 workers so far.
Broadly-speaking they are stressed by various uncertainties,” said Dr Chan Lai Gwen, a psychiatrist based at Tan Tock Seng Hospital who volunteers with HealthServe.
Singapore on Thursday reported 301 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country’s total count to 54,555.
Four of the new cases were in the community.
The remaining cases were linked to foreign workers.
Authorities have said they expect to lift quarantines on all dormitories this week, except for some blocks serving as quarantine zones.
“We continue to aggressively test the final batch of dormitory residents, and remain on track to clear all the dormitories by August 7, except for a few standalone blocks in the dormitories that serve as quarantine facilities,” the Ministry of Health said.