Singapore is monitoring a recent spate of suicides and attempted suicides involving migrants which have heightened concerns over the mental health of thousands of low-paid workers confined to their dormitories in the city-state due to Covid-19.
In April, Singapore sealed off sprawling housing blocks where its vast population of mainly South Asian labourers live in crowded bunk rooms, in an effort to ring-fence a surge in coronavirus cases among the workers.
Four months on, some dormitories remain under quarantine, and even migrants who have been declared virus-free have had their movements restricted and face uncertainty over the jobs on which their families back home depend.
Rights groups say this has taken a heavy toll on workers, pointing to incidents where migrants have been detained under the mental health act after viral videos showed them teetering precariously on rooftops and high window ledges.
In a graphic incident on Sunday reported widely in local news, a 36-year-old migrant was pictured bloodied at the foot of some stairs in his dormitory after self-harming.
Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower said late Wednesday it was monitoring recent suicides and attempted suicides involving migrant workers in dormitories and working with its partners to enhance mental health support programmes for them.
The ministry said it had not observed a spike in suicides among workers compared to previous years. Such incidents tended to stem from family issues which may be exacerbated by the distress of not being able to return home due to Covid-19 restrictions, it added.
Singapore has recorded over 54,000 Covid-19 cases, mainly from dormitories in which around 300,000 workers from Bangladesh, India and China are housed. Only 27 people have died from the disease in the city-state.
Authorities have said they expect to lift quarantines on all dormitories this week, with the exception of some blocks serving as quarantine zones.
But employers’ power to limit workers’ movement outside dormitories even if declared virus-free and fears over servicing high debts taken to secure jobs in Singapore are also feeding depression among migrants, rights groups say.
“Many of the workers now say that the mental anguish is a more serious problem than the virus.” said Deborah Fordyce, president of migrant rights group, Transient Workers Count Too.
Gasper Tan, chief executive of Samaritans of Singapore, said migrants’ limited access to support from friends and family, especially during lockdowns, can result in “overwhelming feelings of negativity”.
“They feel trapped, unable to control or change their circumstance, and may perceive that taking their own life is the only option left to be free of their struggles and pain.”