Migrant workers stuck in dorms get fun day out in Bukit Batok

Migrant worker Rajagopal Purusothaman taking part in an activity at Bukit Batok Nature Park yesterday. The activities for a mixed group of 25 people, including nine migrant workers, were part of a pilot initiative by volunteer-run campaign Welcome In
Migrant workers, sports volunteers and Bukit Batok residents enjoy an afternoon out at Bukit Batok Nature Park on Oct 30, 2020.PHOTO: WINSTON TJIA

For the first time in months, nine migrant workers staying in a temporary dormitory in Bukit Batok had the chance to head to a nearby park and meet and mingle with local residents in the neighbourhood.

As part of a pilot initiative by Welcome In My Backyard (Wimby), the mixed group of about 25 people yesterday took part in a number of activities, including a dance workout, games and a joint trek through Bukit Batok Nature Park.

Members of Team Nila, a group of sports volunteers, were also involved in the day's activities.

Wimby is a volunteer-run campaign that aims to encourage Singaporeans to be more welcoming towards migrant workers.

Those who participated yesterday were either recovered Covid-19 patients or had tested negative for Covid-19 in the past 14 days.

All live in a temporary dormitory at the former Bukit Batok Primary School in Jalan Jurong Kechil.

It is one of at least 30 unused state properties that were converted to temporary accommodation for migrant workers as part of efforts to reduce the density in dormitories and to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Some of these sites are no longer in use as workers have returned to existing dormitories or been moved to new Quick Build Dormitories with improved living standards.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the National Parks Board and the Singapore Land Authority gave approval for the activities to take place at the park.

Currently, migrant workers are still largely restricted to their workplaces and dormitories, or approved locations such as recreation centres.

These measures are part of efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 among the population.

Wimby co-leader Nicholas Oh, 24, who recently graduated from University College London, said the campaign hopes to work with relevant agencies and other non-governmental organisations to explore how more recreational options can be provided to migrant workers, noting that months of movement restrictions have had a negative impact on the mental health of some of them.

At a separate event in Kranji yesterday, Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng said the MOM is conducting "very tight and stringent" scenario planning on how movement restrictions for migrant workers can be eased, and is in the midst of issuing contact-tracing devices to those in dorms.

The first step is to ensure that recreational centres can cater to a majority of workers' needs, he told reporters, adding that up to 50 per cent of migrant workers here are now allowed to visit these centres to buy necessities or to remit funds.

"Successively, we'll then see how we can open up," said Dr Tan.

Mr Oh also said Wimby aims to facilitate interaction and positive relationship-building between local residents and migrant workers.

While yesterday's event was a pilot initiative, Wimby hopes to expand its outreach to communities in other housing estates where migrant workers have been relocated.

The eventual hope is to engage local residents as volunteers through these outreach efforts and for them to organise regular community events in their neighbourhoods, added Mr Oh.

Bukit Batok resident John Tan, 35, said he appreciated the opportunity to chat with and play games with Mr Ubaram Ramesh, 35, an Indian national who works in the construction and process sectors in Singapore.

"I got to learn more about his experience during Covid-19," said Mr Tan, who is keen to join or organise similar events in future.

"I am relieved and very happy," said Mr Ramesh of the chance to be outdoors again after almost seven months of not being able to go outside for non-work purposes.

Mr Simon Tevaraj, 30, another Indian national, who installs fibre optic cables, also said he was happy to be out.

He hopes that the movement restrictions can eventually be relaxed so that he can see his brother and uncle, both of whom are also working in Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2020, with the headline 'Migrant workers stuck in dorms get fun day out in Bukit Batok'. Print Edition | Subscribe