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Jahangir waited till all seemed very quiet outside the room where he was held. It was 11 p.m. He climbed out of his window and tip-toed across the grass to the fence. Summoning a burst of energy, he climbed and topped it in a single bound, half-tumbling into the jungle on the other side. But in so doing, the fence shook and made an unmistakeable sound. The guards rushed out just in time to see him disappear into the undergrowth.
For reasons unknown, the guards did not try to climb the fence themselves. Instead they went the other way, via the main gate to the road. They ran along the road hoping to intercept Jahangir should he come out of the jungle. Seeing them take that route that made it obvious to Jahangir that he should go deeper into the jungle and not emerge till he got to the other side — wherever that other side might be. But how far would that be? How rough would the terrain be? Are there tigers in Singapore? What beasts and snakes might lie in wait along the way?
Fortunately for him, Singapore’s patches of forest have been much reduced by urban development. Without having to go far, he heard the sounds of traffic. There was another road nearby. So he laid low for 20 – 30 minutes, eyes darting left and right for any sign of guards, scorpions, snakes or wild dogs, before carefully emerging from the bush. It wasn’t long before a taxi came by; he jumped into it and asked the driver to head straight for Serangoon Plaza. Hopefully, he would meet someone he knew who could offer him help and shelter till morning.
On March 9, 2012, Jahangir hurt his finger while carrying out steel fitting work at a shipyard in Tuas. The company rushed him to a private hospital, where his finger was X-rayed and treated. He asked the doctor how bad the injury was, but, as Jahangir reported to TWC2, “What treatment [the doctor] do, what X-ray he see, did not inform me. How many days MC also not inform.” The initials “MC” are commonly used in Singapore to stand for medical certificate.
“I ask doctor why he not tell me,” continued the slim young man, “but he say I inform your company boss already. Then I say: ‘who patient? I patient or company patient?’ ”
Apparently, the doctor did not answer that question either.
The doctor then called the company, which sent a lorry to take him away from the hospital. But instead of taking him back to his dormitory in Toh Guan, the lorry driver and supervisor had been instructed to take him to another dormitory in Mandai.
Your writer asked him to describe this place. “Actually, I know the address,” Jahangir said. “I see it from the lorry.”
There were two buildings in the compound ringed by a fence and wall. One building — about five storeys tall — was chiefly sleeping quarters. The other one had a canteen and a security post. He was kept in the “security room” of the second building, guarded by four men round the clock. The guards told him he would be “attacked” if he tried to leave. However, the room was not locked, nor was he assaulted while there. He also had his prescription with him, so he was not short of painkillers for his injury.
However, his work permit was taken away from him, in contravention of Clause 20 of Part II of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations which clearly says,
“The employer shall not retain possession of the foreign employee’s original Work Permit and visit pass and shall allow the foreign employee to retain possession of the Work Permit and visit pass issued to that employee.”
Two days later, the boss came by and Jahangir got a chance to confront him about his work permit being taken away. “Boss say: ‘I need it so I take.’ ” No further discussion of the matter was entertained.
Jahangir also asked his employer why he was being held against his will. “Boss say, because three person this month accident already and they go outside.” Jahangir couldn’t elaborate on the meaning of that because the boss didn’t elaborate, but on the face of it, it seems that three men had suffered workplace accidents and had not been locatable since. Why that is so is unclear; perhaps they had made reports at the Ministry of Manpower and then left the dormitory for fear of repatriation agents coming in the dead of the night?
A company that had such a record of accidents would likely fear investigation by the authorities, and restricting Jahangir’s movements so that he could not make a fourth report could well have been a motive.
For six nights, he worried about his fate. Was the company planning to cancel his work permit and send him back to Bangladesh? “I thinking if company send me back, my family suffer. I have 12 siblings [Jahangir knew the word ‘sibling’], seven brothers, and my small brother now studying. If I don’t send money, he cannot continue.”
Before the accident, he earned about $900 a month — more in good months with lots of overtime — and generally was able to remit $700 – $800 a month back to his family.
Yet, while he hoped to keep his job, the circumstances he now found himself in, confined against his will with his work permit taken away, suggested that if he did not seek help, his worst fears might well come true. So, after nearly a week in the “security room”– without a change of clothes since all his things were still at the Toh Guan dormitory — Jahangir decided he would have to find a way to escape.
The opportunity came at 11 p.m. on March 15. It was a warm night, the window was open, and as he had observed during the day, the jungle on the side of the fence, while thick, was not impassable. And so off he went.
Jahangir has since made a report at the Ministry of Manpower. Because pain returned to the finger, he also went to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where he was given five days’ MC, which testifies to the seriousness of the injury.
“The total bill was $95, but only I only had $20 with me, so I gave them all my $20.”
The company should be paying his medical expenses — as per the law — but getting reimbursed will be yet another bureaucratic problem on top of all the other complaints he has.
TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our