The above video was made by Lim Li Ting, Isabel Joy Kua and Caleb Lau, three students with the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore.

The event captured is a half-day release from dormitory confinement being enjoyed by a small number of migrant workers.

Some 300,000 men, mostly from India and Bangladesh, with some from China and Myanmar, have been restricted to their dormitories since April 2020, when Covid-19 first surged in Singapore. Except to be taken out to work — and taken back again at the end of the shift — they have not been allowed to leave their quarters. TWC2 has spoken strongly against this inhuman policy, especially as even public health experts have said there is no longer any public health justification for keeping them confined.

On 13 September 2021, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) initiated a pilot programme to take a few workers out on very carefully managed visits to places of interest. This video captures scenes from this, with the participants sharing their thoughts.

The specific details of the programme are as follows:

  • There are six planned excursions a week, each lasting a total of about six hours. Nett of travelling time, the men get about four hours in the designated locality downtown.
  • No more than 80 men may join any excursion; thus the programme serves 480 men per week (approximately 0.16 percent of the confined population).
  • All the men must be fully vaccinated (the vast majority are) but only men from the same dormitory may join the same excursion. MOM says they don’t want men from different dorms to inter-mix.
  • The men are bussed to a designated precinct — Little India, in the case here — where after alighting from the bus, they are first read the proverbial riot act (see the image at 34 seconds), then frog-marched to a place of worship before being given some free-and-easy time.
  • They are to stay within the defined area; should they breach the boundaries, there may be penalties.

At 38 seconds in the video, one worker says, “we come [to] meet our friends”. Actually, this is not what it may first sound. The friends he was referring to are those who do not live in dormitories and therefore are not confined. The relatives this speaker referred to happen to live in Little India too, so they could meet up.

Unfortunately, he was almost surely an exception — which may be why he signed up for the outing. Most migrant workers’ close friends or relatives (e.g. brother or cousin) are also dormitory-based, and since the programme does not allow workers from different dormitories to mix, there is still no opportunity to spend time with the ones they are most attached to, as expressed by the worker speaking at 2 minutes 49 seconds. Thus, this programme fails to provide for the real social and emotional needs of migrant workers.

Originally, the pilot programme was supposed to run for just one month, catering to nearly 2,000 workers — though it was reported at the end of October that ultimately only about 700 workers participated — a 35% take-up rate (see source article in the Straits Times).

We also learned from official sources that the programme did not end in mid October as originally intended, but is still continuing. Nonetheless, continuing is not really the point. At a rate of 500 men per week even if fully subscribed, it will take 600 weeks (i.e. twelve years) before every man gets ONE chance to board the bus.

School excursion-type programmes are not the answer. Treating grown adults (and responsible breadwinners) like kids is not the answer. The policy of confinement should be done away with altogether. This is no way to treat people.

For more background information about this pilot programme, see press stories:

Today Online, 9 September 2021, Up to 500 vaccinated migrant workers a week can leave dorms to visit designated areas in pilot to ease curbs

Today Online, 16 September 2021, Covid-19 pilot scheme: First migrant worker groups leave dorms to pray, shop and meet friends in Little India