Singapore is monitoring a spate of suicides and attempted suicides involving migrants, which has heightened concerns over the mental health of thousands of low-paid workers confined to their dormitories amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In April, Singapore sealed off sprawling housing blocks where its vast population of mainly South Asian workers live in crowded bunk rooms, in an effort to ring-fence a surge in cases of the novel coronavirus 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 their jobs.
Rights groups say that this has taken a heavy toll on workers, pointing to incidents where migrants have been detained under the Singapore Mental Health (Care and Treatment) 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.
The Singaporean Ministry of Manpower on Wednesday said that it was monitoring recent suicides and attempted suicides involving migrant workers in dormitories and working with its partners to enhance mental health support programs for them.
The ministry said it had not observed a spike in suicides among workers compared with previous years.
Such incidents tended to stem from family issues, which might be exacerbated by the distress of not being able to return home due to COVID-19 restrictions, it said.
Authorities have said they expect to lift quarantines on all dormitories this week, with the exception of some blocks serving as quarantine zones.
However, 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,” Transient Workers Count Too president Deborah Fordyce said.
Samaritans of Singapore chief executive Gasper Tan said that 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,” Tan said.
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