By Benjamin Wong
“Where do you sleep now?” It is but my first question, and it already pierces something in Mizanur’s heart. He begins to tear. I tell him to take his food, then come and talk to me. I observe him as he eats; in between mouthfuls of food, Mizanur pauses, like he has no appetite, staring blankly ahead.
Mizanur has been to Singapore two times already. He first came in 2008, paying over $5,000 to an agent for the job. With only 12 months’ work, he couldn’t recover the investment. For his second job, starting 2010, he paid $4,500 and barely made it back.
But this third and current contract has turned out to be the harshest of all. Arriving in Singapore 25 November 2011, he was employed by a carpentry shop. Around June 2012, he was carrying a wooden framework when he fell down. Mizanur was in extreme pain, and his boss immediately sent him to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun. He was not warded but sent back to his dormitory. Two days on, the pain was still bad and even though the supervisor would not give permission, he went to Sengkang Polyclinic on his own. The polyclinic then referred him to Changi General Hospital, where it was realised that the injuries – to his neck, back and right leg – might be worse than originally thought. He was given 70 days’ medical leave and an appointment for an MRI scan on 11 September 2012.
That was when his boss lost patience.
On 13 July, his boss suddenly cancelled his work permit. “He say, ‘I give you some money, you go back’.
“If you never go back, I make case and you will go to jail.”
It was not clear what the boss meant by “case”, but it was enough for Mizanur to feel unsafe staying on in the dorm. “He anyhow talking,” Mizanur said, “I scared and I come out of the house.”
He has complained to the Ministry of Manpower but, tearing up again, says, “MOM officer never say anything.”
Increasingly distraught, he can barely answer in full sentences.
I ask him about his family back home in Bangladesh. “One wife, one son.”
“How old, your boy?”
“Five month old.”
He manages a weak “no,” after I ask him if he has been able to send any money back to his family.
Right now, his chief concern is the MRI in September for which his boss is unwilling to pay. “Boss say send back, send back.”
The tears are welling up in Mizanur’s eyes, “Nobody to help, how to pay. Doctor say no money cannot see.”
His work permit cancelled, driven out of the company dormitory, he now sleeps wherever he can. “Now I anyhow sleep”. He claims he is not alone, for there are others like him, jobless and who can’t afford a bed even in the filthy tenements of Little India, spending nights on the streets instead.
The interview ends, but Mizanur continues sitting in his chair, a dazed and sad look on his face as tries to wipe away his tears. He sits there for five minutes like this. I sit with him, hoping that my silent presence would lend some moral support. Then he slowly gets up and bids me goodbye, saying softly, “OK, I go…”