Photo from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, July 2020 (AP Photo)
By TWC2 volunteer Emma Hong, based on an interview in September 2020
Caught between the crossroads of climate change and Covid-19, Khan Ali Hossain came to TWC2 to seek help. While some workers are trying to enter Singapore for work, Ali is just trying to find a way out.
Ali has been working in Singapore for a few years now in construction and typically works on demolition. He has had a number of different jobs over the years, taking breaks between jobs to return home to his family in Bangladesh. He has a wife, a 7-year-old daughter, Sumaiya, and a 3-year-old son, Raza. He proudly shows a picture of his kids as his phone background, and he keeps in touch with his family constantly through the imo app.
Luckily, during Singapore’s lockdown, Ali lived off-site rather than in a worker’s dormitory and he never contracted Covid-19. He’s been tested six times, all negative. When returning to work, he had to get tested every two weeks.
However, he says his employer Eagle E&C Pte Ltd. is closing shop — this could potentially be due to the economic impact of Covid-19 and Singapore’s economic recession. Instead of hoping to get transitioned to another construction company in Singapore, Ali wants to go home instead. There is a family emergency.
Ali’s family are among the four million people affected by flooding in Bangladesh during this year’s monsoon season. Bangladesh, sometimes known as “the land of the rivers”, is experiencing some of the worst flooding in a decade and the longest-lasting since 1988. His house in Bangladesh is sinking into the ground as a result of all that water. Ali needs to be there to help rebuild his house.
His family lives in a village in Madaripur, Bangladesh. Madaripur borders the Padma River, a massive distributary of the Ganges River in India, which originates from glaciers in the Himalayas. Ali said that it takes 40 minutes just to cross the river, before one can reach the capital Dhaka.
The Padma River is extremely vulnerable to river erosion, meaning that the river’s shoreline is constantly shifting, which can lead to the displacement of people, homes, and farms. While natural causes contribute to the Padma River’s flooding, human factors, such as dredging, deforestation, dams along the river, and poor government management of solutions and infrastructure also play a major role in destabilising it.
Then there’s climate change. Experts expect that by 2050, rising sea levels will flood 17% of Bangladesh’s land and lead to the displacement of 18 million people in one of the most densely populated nations in the world. As flooding disrupts economic opportunities in villages and makes soil infertile with saltwater, more people are heading to cities or looking for work overseas, just like Ali.
And this is all happening in the context of the Covid-19 global public health crisis, which has led to household income in Bangladesh falling by 20% due to government-imposed lockdowns and restrictions on movement.
Around the world, there are migrant workers like Ali who feel stranded, unable to return to their home country due to travel restrictions or reduced flights due to the pandemic.
But go home, Ali must.
After Ali submitted his letter of resignation to Eagle E&C, he received no response from his boss. As, under the law, the employer is responsible for paying him his final wages and buying him an airticket home, Ali needs the employer’s action to get home. Their WhatsApp conversation has multiple unanswered calls from Ali to the boss after he sent a photo of his resignation letter.
The employer’s silence leaves Ali frustrated.
Despite it all, Ali expects to return to Singapore after he sorts things out back home. He is happy with the opportunities and pay in Singapore. Already, he has found a new contact (“Amin Boss” in his phone contacts list) whom he will reach out to when he’s ready to come back for a new job.