Coronavirus: Singaporeans reach out to stranded Malaysian workers

Volunteers from Home Away From Home at Transit Point@Margaret Drive.
Volunteers from Home Away From Home at Transit Point@Margaret Drive.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ROSLINA TOH

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - While most Singaporeans were fast asleep, Ms Roslina Toh was combing MRT stations, void decks and neighbourhood parks every night for over a week.

Together with a team of volunteers from a project called Home Away From Home, Ms Toh, a 23-year-old student, has been scouring these areas in the wee hours to locate workers who may be left without a home after the Malaysian government implemented its movement control order, which has since been extended to April 14.

Malaysia's movement restrictions, which came into effect at midnight last Wednesday (March 18), left workers and their employers scrambling to make accommodation arrangements.

On Wednesday, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) urged employers here to find longer-term accommodation for their Malaysian workers.

While the Government will not be extending temporary housing support for these workers past March 31, an MOM spokesman said on Tuesday that a multi-agency effort led by MOM has helped about 10,000 affected workers find housing.

However, Ms Toh said: "Every night, we still find workers without a place to stay, although the authorities have done a good job and we see fewer cases every night."

Home Away From Home has taken over 50 affected workers to Transit Point @ Margaret Drive, a newly opened shelter for the homeless run by New Hope Community Services.

Reports of Malaysian workers sleeping rough at Kranji MRT station drove Ms Toh and her core team of volunteers to take action and start the project.

When TNP visited the area around Marsiling MRT station last Friday night, six workers said they had been sleeping at void decks or pavilions.

One of them, a Malaysian woman from Sabah who declined to be named, was found resting on the steps of a covered multi-purpose space.

In between sobs, the 23-year-old vegetable stall assistant told TNP: "I came to Singapore for my work permit application, but my employer said it will be finalised only next month. She said she could find housing only for her workers with work permits, so I have been sleeping here for the last three nights."

 
 
 
 

Her 31-year-old sister, who works as a waitress here, has been sleeping rough with her even though her employer had made arrangements for her to stay at a hostel.

Another worker, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ahliq, said he will be sleeping at void decks in Marsiling for the duration of the lockdown as the available shelters are not near his workplace in Bukit Batok.

The 40-year-old man, who works in the maritime industry, said: "I feel stuck here and it gets cold at night, but I have no choice since I have to work."

Another group, Homeless Hearts Of Singapore, has matched stranded workers with families who wish to house them. The group said over 120 people have offered to open their homes to these workers.

In a statement to TNP on Tuesday, MOM warned that employers who fail to find acceptable lodging for their workers will be taken to task and may be barred from hiring foreign workers.