Migrant workers say day out is a boost to mental health as Covid-19 rules mostly lifted

Migrant workers gather at Jurong East on June 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Migrant workers who returned in droves to popular locations on Sunday (June 26), as restrictions limiting their movement were mostly lifted, said the day out with friends has helped with their mental health.

While they could freely visit community areas since last Friday, many still chose to apply for a Popular Places Pass in order to visit some of their favourite haunts.

The pass is for those residing in dormitories. It is meant to limit footfall in Little India, Jurong East, Chinatown and Geylang Serai on Sundays and public holidays.

The Straits Times visited these four locations on Sunday.

Mr Min Manak, 46, who is from Bangladesh, was at a bus stop in Haig Road in Geylang waiting for his friends from other dormitories to arrive. 

He was the earliest to get there, having taken a train on the East-West Line from his dormitory in South Tuas.

"My friends and I are going to walk around Geylang Serai. I haven't come here in three years," he said.

"After that, we'll go and eat fast food, maybe KFC or McDonald's. We want something different, because we eat rice every day. I'll return to my dorm after that.

"Last time, we could only go to work or stay in the dorm. Now we can walk anywhere and relax. It's good for our bodies and minds," he added.

He plans to visit Little India to worship at Angullia Mosque on Sunday.

It was something he used to do often in his 15 years working here, but could not because of Covid-19 restrictions that migrant workers and the general population were placed under.

Mr Shyam Chandran, 29, was busy snapping pictures with his camera in Jurong East.

Armed with a zoom lens, Mr Shyam, who is from Bangladesh, took portraits of his friend, who was seated outside Westgate mall.

"Last time... my life was just the dorm, construction, dorm, construction and dorm again. I was very depressed. I couldn't go outside, I couldn't see my friends.

"I'm very happy that I can practise my photography again. This is the first time in two years that I've been able to use my camera," he said, smiling.

Migrant workers gather at Jurong East on June 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

For such workers, besides resuming their routines, the lifting of restrictions also meant they could rekindle their connection to home.

In Little India, groups of workers were out and about, chatting with their friends and window shopping.

For construction worker Ashok Kumar, it was the first time he had left his dormitory in three months for recreational purposes.

The 37-year-old Indian national said that it "feels better" to be able to travel around Singapore freely, with Sunday's outing being an opportunity for him to catch up with his friends and "swop stories".

As some dormitories lack kitchen facilities, Little India was the next best place to get a taste of home.

Mr Kumar described Tekka Centre as one of his favourite haunts, as the food is "cheap and good".

Migrant workers in Little India on June 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Over in Chinatown, workers were mostly there to run errands.

Chinese supermarkets in the area were bustling with activity as workers purchased local snacks and food to take back to their dormitories.

Queues also formed outside remittance shops in People's Park Complex as workers waited to send their hard-earned money back home.

A manufacturing worker who gave his name only as Mr Ren said he hardly visits Chinatown, as it is too far from his dormitory in Taman Jurong.

Each visit he makes is with the sole intention of remitting money home. He has not been home since 2017.

People in People's Park Complex at Chinatown on June 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: EUGENE GOH

While the 50-year-old was unaware of the Popular Places Pass, Mr Ren said he thought it was unnecessary.

"I haven't applied for a pass to go out recently. I thought that showing our work permits to the police would be enough.

"If we don't know about the pass, then what's the point? I find them to be quite troublesome now."

The Ministry of Manpower had earlier said it would conduct random checks at the four locations and speak to migrant workers to explain how they can apply for a Popular Places Pass.

  • Additional reporting by Nellie Toh, Young Zhan Heng, Bryan Cheong, Tasneem Begum Mustapha and Irdina Aisyah

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.