KUALA LUMPUR — A lockdown imposed in Singapore to stall the spread of the new coronavirus has led to increased incidences of domestic helpers being overworked or abused, according to a group that operates a helpline for migrant workers. The Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME) said on Friday that calls to the helpline had jumped by 25 per cent since the restrictions were introduced on April 7. Most businesses were closed, forcing Singaporeans to work from home. In turn, some domestic workers – often young women from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines who cook and clean for the city-state’s well-to-do families – face “increased work hours as employers are home at almost all hours of the day, leading to an increase in household and caregiving duties,” HOME stated.
KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Ministry of Health reported 1,016 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, taking the national total to 10,141. All but 15 of the new cases were described by the ministry as “work permit holders residing in foreign worker dormitories.” Almost all cases reported during April have been in the dormitories: purpose-built residences where around 300,000 of Singapore’s 1.4 million foreign workers live. Wednesday is the third day in succession that Singapore has confirmed over a thousand new cases.
KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Ministry of Health on Saturday announced a daily high of 942 cases of Covid-19, the sometimes-fatal respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, pushing the city-state’s total to 5,992. In a brief statement, Singapore’s Ministry of Health said that the “vast majority” of the new cases announced on Saturday are foreign workers living in state-approved dormitories. “We must expect to see more dorm cases for a while longer,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned on Saturday. “Fortunately, the vast majority of the cases are mild, because the workers are young,” Lee said. Though it had banned most incoming travel and later forced bars and restaurants to close, Singapore resisted imposing the strict lockdowns seen in neighbouring Malaysia and the Philippines until case numbers in the dormitories started to climb, prompting the government to impose a “circuit breaker” on April 7.
KUALA LUMPUR — The wealthiest and third-wealthiest countries in South-East Asia, Singapore and Malaysia respectively, depend on millions of immigrants to fill low-wage jobs in agriculture, construction, domestic help and restaurants. This critical but often neglected section of society – nearly one and a half million people in Singapore and perhaps twice as many in Malaysia – has been thrust into the spotlight by the coronavirus pandemic. The past two weeks have seen a surge in Covid-19 cases across 43 government-sanctioned dormitories that house around 200,000 of Singapore’s migrant workers. Of Singapore’s record 386 new cases announced on Monday night, the “majority are Work Permit holders in the dormitories,” according to the Ministry of Health. Altogether around a third of the city-state’s 2,918 cases have been linked to the residences, where workers from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal and elsewhere often sleep 10-20 to a room.
KUALA LUMPUR — Concerns are growing that as Malaysia’s coronavirus death toll rises, migrant workers who have risked potential exposure are not being tested due to fear of arrest. The Malaysian government has stated that that undocumented migrants and refugees will not be detained if they come forward to be screened for Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. However the pledges have been criticized as belated and insufficient by organizations that assist some of Malaysia’s estimated 3 million migrant or expatriate workers. Gurdial Singh Nijar, president of Hakam, the National Human Rights Society, said on Tuesday that the government should issue public directives to police and immigration officials, to further reassure migrants, who might otherwise fear “harassment or adverse consequences.”
KUALA LUMPUR — New economic data shows that foreign remittances sent to Asian countries hit US$300 billion for the first time last year, underscoring the ever-rising importance overseas work for the region’s laborers despite world-beating economic growth rates. Freshly released World Bank statistics put the total amount of remittances for 2018 to countries in South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia and the Pacific at $299.6 billion, a sum that does not include what are believed to be substantial informal flows of money sent home by regional migrants. Globally and in Asia, remittance figures are growing year by year, despite heady 6-7% gross domestic product (GDP) growth in countries such as the Philippines, a nation which has around 10 million of its citizens working abroad across various vocations. The 2018 amount of regional remittances was around $25 billion greater than in 2017 and $125 billion more than in 2008. Worldwide, remittance flows now account for more than foreign direct investment to middle and low income countries excluding China, the World Bank data shows.
JAKARTA/SINGAPORE — A year ago two young female migrant workers in Indonesia, including 26 year old Indonesian Siti Nurbaya, were cast at the center of an international murder mystery when they were arrested by police for their alleged role in the audacious, Le Carré-esque assassination by poisoning of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which was carried out despite the usual bustling morning crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Preying on the women’s perceived vulnerability as relatively-poor migrant workers at the margins of society, defense lawyers contend that North Korean agents duped their clients into unwittingly carrying out the murder by bluffing they were being recruited for a series of made for TV pranks. As the trial of Nurbaya and her alleged accomplice from Vietnam rolled on last month in Shah Alam near Kuala Lumpur, another case was emerging that highlighted the perils facing migrants in Malaysia. Adelina Sao died in a Penang hospital on February 11 after she was found with head injuries and infected wounds on her limbs, succumbing after two years in Malaysia as one of around 400,000 foreign maids working in the country.
JAKARTA — Vast differences in living standards and wages across Southeast Asia have driven a massive rise in migration in the region since the mid-1990s, resulting in an estimated 6.77 million migrant workers sending home substantial chunks of their often meager wages to support families in poorer areas. According to a World Bank report released Monday, in 2015 Southeast Asian migrants sent around $62 billion worth of remittances to their home countries. That amount is almost the same as the gross domestic product of Myanmar for the same year and around three times Cambodia’s. Remittances are a vital part of several countries’ economies — making up 10% of GDP in the Philippines, 7% in Vietnam, 5% in Myanmar and 3% in Cambodia, though the majority of migrants from the Philippines and Vietnam work outside Southeast Asia.
JAKARTA — Official crackdowns on emigrants in Malaysia and Thailand have cast further doubt on over prospects that member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations can finalize a long discussed deal on migrant workers’ rights. In June and July around 100,000 mostly Myanmar migrant workers fled Thailand after the military government in Bangkok announced hefty new fines for undocumented workers and their employers. Then, starting July 1, Malaysia made a series of arrests of alleged undocumented migrant workers, affecting more than 3,000 workers and around 60 employers accused of giving work to illegals. These tough actions — though a reprise of previous years’ crackdowns — come as the region’s governments mull proposed enhancements to the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed in Cebu in the central Philippines during one of Manila’s past tenures as the group’s chair. Two years after the Cebu declaration, ASEAN countries started moves toward a set of region-wide legal norms, but progress has been slow. With Manila again chairing ASEAN this year, there has been a renewed push to address migrant rights — an important social and political issue in the Philippines.
BANGKOK – In Aceh on the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, the refugees were in bad shape when they landed in early and mid-May after a long ordeal at sea. “They only had the clothes on their backs. Many had wounds from the fighting that had broken out at sea over food,” Nasruddin, a coordinator for the Geutanyoe Foundation, an Acehnese nongovernmental organization that has been working with the survivors, told the Nikkei Asian Review.