• Thursday, Feb 25, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:38 pm

Asian migrant workers locked up, dumped as coronavirus curbs ease

  • Published at 08:14 pm December 24th, 2020
Asian migrants
Migrant workers from Myanmar work at a street market amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Bangkok, Thailand, December 23, 2020 Reuters

‘It is clear that these governments and employers really treat migrant workers as second-class citizens’

Migrant workers in Asia are being locked up and abandoned by employers even as countries ease coronavirus curbs, say human rights groups, which are calling for better housing and changes to visa laws.

The warning came after more than a dozen workers from Myanmar were dumped by the roadside in Thailand this week following a ban on the movement of migrant workers in and out of certain areas because of a Covid-19 outbreak.

In Singapore, where cramped dormitories were a virus hotspot, migrant workers are still largely confined to their rooms even as authorities have eased restrictions in the city.

“It is clear that these governments — and employers — really treat migrant workers as second-class citizens,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of global non-profit Human Rights Watch in Asia.

“Certainly, governments need to address outbreaks and test workers. But they are doing it in a way that violates their rights, and in a way that they would not treat their own citizens,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Singapore, where the vast majority of Covid-19 cases were reported in the dormitories, authorities had earlier sealed off the accommodations that house more than 320,000 mostly South Asian low-wage workers.

The government vowed to build new dormitories with improved standards.

But workers remain largely confined to their dorms, except those who are eligible to apply for permission to go out briefly on rest days.

Migrant workers in some dormitories will be allowed to go out once a month from early next year if they wear contact-tracing devices and are subject to frequent testing.

Proprietary approach

The government’s measures are “disproportionate” and do not respect migrant workers’ rights, said Alex Au, vice president of the Singaporean non-profit Transient Workers Count Too.

“Yes, we need to be vigilant, but it is a matter of proportionality: the facts do not justify such severe restrictions on migrant workers,” he said.

The workers — nearly half of whom had been infected, according to the government — already had greater immunity, and were tested more frequently than the community, Au said.

“The Singapore government has a paternalistic, almost proprietary approach towards migrant workers — caring for them because they are of economic value,” he said.

“There is a subconscious blaming of the migrant workers, which is happening in other countries, too,” he added.

The Singapore government has defended its measures, saying that migrant workers had received good care, and will get the vaccine for free like all other residents.

“The risk of Covid-19 re-emerging in our migrant worker dormitories is real and significant,” Tan See Leng, a second minister for manpower, said in a Facebook post last week.

“We know that our measures have been tough on our migrant workers. We recognize our responsibility to keep them safe, and to take care of their livelihood and welfare,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the ministry declined further comment.

In neighbouring Malaysia, authorities have said they would file charges against Top Glove, the world’s biggest maker of medical gloves, for poor worker accommodations after a Covid-19 outbreak.

In Thailand, authorities have said they will extend the work permits of migrants, permit some workers to get tested for free, and file charges against employers who abandoned workers.

But authorities must also commit to improving migrant housing, and reform the law to free up visas that keep workers tied to employers, said Robertson.

“Migrant workers’ vulnerability is heightened because of their living and working conditions, yet they face unequal access to services,” he said.

“There needs to be a rethink of how migrant workers are treated — and not just because it’s imperative for public health.”

Facebook 66
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail