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.
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.