Video & text by TWC2 volunteer Maximilian Lim, August 2020

“Do you feel very worried, very scared about the money problem?” Alex asks Bangladeshi worker Shafiqul.

“Yeah, scared I go Bangladesh, then give me pressure or something, the bank.”

Shafiqul first came to Singapore in 2016 as the sole breadwinner of his family of five. He came originally with the dream of earning enough after a few years to start a business in Bangladesh. He is now leaving Singapore after working for more than three years (during which he had two jobs), with a larger debt than he originally arrived with. 

Shafiqul’s father, who had been a tenant-farmer in the area outside Dhaka, passed away from a stroke when Shafiqul was just fourteen. When Shafiqul finished his education at age 20, he learnt his father’s ropes and worked as a farmer for five years in order to support his wife, mother, and three schooling brothers. However, he soon realised that farming did not provide sufficient income for his large family. 

Shafiqul then sold his family’s land and took a 200,000 taka loan (“two lakh”, about $3,300) in order to finance his work placement in Singapore. Despite sending back 11,000 taka (about $200) each month to his family for expenses and to repay the loan, Shafiqul gradually found himself deeper in debt. Now, despite after having worked in Singapore for three years, Shafiqul owes his creditors 250,000 taka (about $4,100) which is more than he had initially borrowed.

From his uncertainty when we ask him about the interest rate or other details, it appears that the terms of his loan might not have been clearly explained to him.

He tells TWC2 that he only found out about the current owed balance of 250,000 when one of his brothers visited the bank to ask.

In May 2019, Shafiqul suffered a workplace accident, injuring his back and finger. Despite bleeding profusely, he had to wait an hour before the company lorry took him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. At the hospital, he underwent a skin graft, and was hospitalised for three days. After being discharged, he was originally asked to work by his foreman and supervisor, but this was eventually overruled by a medical officer.

Shafiqul has since been on medical leave and has not worked. Needless to say, repayments to the lender are currently suspended, making things worse.