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SG’s Ambassador to US responds to Washington Post article on Covid-19 outbreak among migrant workers

However Ashok Kumar Mirpuri did not address the issues of inequality brought up in the article which could have helped cause the infection to spread so widely




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Singapore—On April 22, the Washington Post published an article entitled “Singapore lost control of its coronavirus outbreak, and migrant workers are the victims,” which painted a stark picture of what life is like for the country’s migrant workers, especially in the construction sector.

The workers’ low salary, limited access to healthcare, poor living conditions, discrimination, as well as other aspects of their lives were highlighted in the article, along with news concerning the coronavirus outbreak among their community. To date, over 85 percent of coronavirus cases in Singapore are found among migrant workers.

And while Singapore’s Ambassador to the United States, Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, wrote back to the Post acknowledged the outbreak of Covid-19 cases among migrant workers and wrote that the Government feels “a deep responsibility to take care of these workers,” he did not address the issues of inequality brought up in the article, which could have helped cause the infection to spread so widely.

The Post article quotes Alex Au, the vice president of rights group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), which sought to sound alarm bells concerning the vulnerability of migrant workers even before the outbreak.

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“For the first two months, we engaged in a lot of self-congratulation. If anyone had cared to look, the dangers were already there.”

Mr Au also mentioned “the deliberate invisibilization of the foreign worker; the whole machinery of state operates as though they don’t exist.”

He added, “To keep them cheap, we have to exploit. We pack them into [trucks], we pack them into dormitories, and now, when a crisis hits, they have no buffer.”

The article also tells the stories of two Bangladeshi workers. The first is Shekor, who despite having gotten an injury to the hip on March 18 has been unable to get access to painkillers since the lockdown of dormitories.

The second is Ali, who, despite having had a sore throat and fever even—coronavirus symptoms—before the lockdown, could not obtain medical attention. Nor could he socially distance himself from his 11 roommates within the confines of their dormitory room.

The Ambassador, in his response to the Post, said that “since January” the Government has asked the operators of dormitories to “ensure safe distancing, step up cleaning, suspend nonessential communal activities, require temperature checks, distribute hand sanitizer and segregate residents from different dormitory blocks,” but added, “Unfortunately, the measures proved insufficient.”

Ambassador Mirpuri's letter to the Washington Post editor regarding the April 22 news article “Migrant workers bear the…

Posted by Singapore Embassy in Washington DC on Tuesday, 5 May 2020

And since the outbreak, authorities have performed extensive testing, given health care at no cost to the workers, provided three meals a day, made sure of their continued salaries, made counseling available and even enabled “Muslim workers to observe Ramadan and celebrate Eid al-Fitr, just as we celebrated the new year with Indian workers.”

He ended his piece by writing, “We feel a deep responsibility to take care of these workers. When the dust has settled, there will be time for a thorough review of what must change and how we could have done better. For now, our focus must be to win the fight against the coronavirus.”

As to the conditions that may have well given rise to the widespread occurrence of the coronavirus among the migrant workers, Mr Mirpuri did not touch on these aspects at all. —/TISG

Read also: Lesson from S’pore’s Covid-19 outbreak: The stone left unturned

Lesson from S’pore’s Covid-19 outbreak: The stone left unturned


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