SINGAPORE: Activist and writer Kristen Han highlighted a comment about housing for foreign workers in a report published earlier this week in CNA. The report, titled ‘A migrant worker room in Singapore was redesigned to feel like home. Could this be the future for dormitories?’ featured innovations of the spaces where workers are housed.

However, the following paragraph caught Ms Han’s attention: “DASL president Mr Cheah said some (DASL) members were surprised that private space or having areas to spend time with their roommates meant so much to residents. It also came as a shock that residents wanted mattresses, because operators traditionally do not receive complaints about mattresses, and workers rarely buy their own, he said.”

In her post, Ms Han, who has been a champion of the rights of migrant workers in Singapore, wrote, “Who could possibly have known that migrant workers need private space and would appreciate having mattresses to sleep on? How does anyone let this sort of quote escape their mouth and not hear themselves?”

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Ms Han posted a screenshot of a comment attributed to members of the Dormitory Association of Singapore Limited (DASL). DASL commissioned Project Commune in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic showed how the cramped and even unsanitary conditions in migrant workers’ dormitories drove, in large part, the number of infections in Singapore.

 

Project Commune’s redesigned dorm rooms are a far cry from usual dormitories, and in August, it won a Singapore Good Design (SG Mark) Gold award. Photos of the dorm prototype, which eight migrant workers have been able to try out, are included in the CNA story.

The Independent Singapore has reached out to Ms Han for further comment.

Early in 2020, Singapore had relatively small numbers of COVID-19 infections. However, this situation changed very quickly in March after infection clusters were found in migrant worker dormitories, which led to a shutdown of the dorms and severe curbs imposed upon the workers.

Singapore’s cases grew tenfold within the month of March, ballooning from 100 to 1000 in four short weeks, and since then tripling to over 3,000 by April 15.

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In that month, close to 20,000 migrant workers had been quarantined in an attempt to prevent the spread of infections. “Given the rising number of confirmed cases, this is necessary to avoid the risk of further transmissions from any potentially infected workers to others in the dormitories, as well as into the community. Workers who are symptomatic have already been isolated,” the Ministry of Health said at the time.

Activists, including those from TWC2 and It’s Raining Raincoats, had sounded the alarm early in the pandemic about how the cramped living conditions of migrant workers were likely to give rise to infection clusters.

Read also: Pritam Singh says a “total mindset shift towards foreign workers” is urgent /TISG