Singaporeans offer to house stranded Malaysian workers, as authorities step up patrols to look out for them
KUALA LUMPUR,. Less than 24 hours after Armel Sharil was sleeping rough at Kranji MRT Station where TODAY met him, he now has a roof over his head for the next two weeks.
He has been matched to a hostel in Clarke Quay by his employer, who told him that he did not have to pay a single cent. “It’s a bit far from my workplace in Jurong East but it’s okay. I’m not choosy,” he said.
On Thursday (March 19), TODAY reported on the plight of Armel and several other Malaysian workers who had to spend the night near Kranji MRT Station. They had yet to find temporary housing after entering Singapore to avoid a nationwide lockdown in Malaysia, which took effect on Wednesday.
TODAY’s reporter was at the MRT station from about 9.30pm to almost 2am on Thursday.
Following the report, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) spokesperson said in a statement that 14 workers were picked up from the location later in the night, and taken to a temporary relief centre managed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) at Jurong East, while longer-term housing arrangements were being made.
The spokesperson said that TODAY’s report “did not present a full picture of the ground situation as a result of Malaysia’s movement control order”.
Since the order was imposed, MOM and the Singapore Police Force have stepped up patrols around the island to check for workers who did not manage to secure accommodation, the spokesperson added.
This aside, there has been an outpouring of support from Singaporeans for Malaysian workers without a place to stay, with many offering to house the workers in their own homes or provide them with food and blankets.
Among them was Wendy Chiang, who has two spare rooms in her home that she is offering for S$5 a day each as rental.
The church worker in her mid-40s said that she has been looking for ways to help affected workers and finally found out about an initiative run by charity organisation Homeless Hearts of Singapore to link up Singaporeans who had rooms to offer Malaysians in need of shelter.
Then, there is Eriyani Bakeri, who is offering one of her family’s spare rooms for free. After reading TODAY’s report, the 38-year-old housewife said that she was saddened by the plight of the Malaysian workers.
She added that although she is not well-off, she was more than happy to cook more food for her guests.
Another Singaporean who was moved to act following the report was Mr Ummar Hasim, 33.
The marketing executive called on fellow Singaporeans — through the Couchsurfing (Singapore) Facebook page — to open up their homes to the workers. The group, of which he is a member, lets Singaporeans host travellers during their stay on the island.
As of 6pm, six people have offered spaces in their homes — located in various areas including Bukit Batok, Paya Lebar and Serangoon — for the workers to stay.
While he was not able to offer temporary accommodation, Levin Foo, 36, has ordered 40 sleeping bags, 40 blankets, as well as some hand sanitisers and masks from a wholesale supplier. He wanted to distribute them to workers still searching for a place to stay.
Foo, who is self-employed, said that the items cost about S$700 in all and were sponsored by a friend.
Referring to the Malaysian workers, he said: “They have to leave their families to come to Singapore to work… Some Singaporeans don’t understand this.”
Foo plans to take along his two children, aged eight and 10, when he goes to distribute the items. “I want them to show their appreciation to these workers,” he said.
Property website 99.co is also helping to screen and connect stranded Malaysian workers to residents and businesses here who are offering temporary accommodation.
Singapore employers who are seeking accommodation for their workers may also use the website.
Government agencies get involved
On Thursday, Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, urged members of the public to contact MOM if they know of any Malaysians in need of temporary accommodation.
Writing on Facebook, Fu talked about what various Singapore government agencies were doing to help house Malaysian workers at the Jurong East Sports Hall, which has been converted to a temporary relief centre.
At the centre, the workers are given a “ready pack”, which includes items such as toiletries, towel, toilet paper and a sleeping bag. The workers could shower and wash up before leaving for work in the morning, M Fu added.
She noted that it took fewer than two days for a team of officers from her ministry to craft and execute a plan to house stranded Malaysian workers.
When TODAY visited the sports hall between 7.30pm and 8.30pm on Thursday, there were at least seven workers seen entering the facility. The entrance was cordoned off and staff members from MSF were present.
One of the workers was Malaysian lorry driver who gave his name as just Mr Wong. Speaking in Mandarin, the 45-year-old said that he had slept in a lorry the night before but came down to the hall after a friend told him about it.
Separately, two Singaporean women showed up with a large plastic bag filled with necessities such as toilet rolls, T-shirts and shampoo. One of them, who wanted to be known only as Ms Tay, said that they lived near the sports hall and had decided to chip in and help.
In response to queries from TODAY, an MSF spokesperson said that the temporary relief centre was set up on Tuesday morning, after Malaysia’s announcement of the lockdown on Monday evening.
It is meant to “support companies who were not able to react in time to secure housing for their workers”.
“These workers are provided with basic amenities for a brief stay before their companies transfer them to more amenable short-term accommodations,” the spokesperson said, adding that the ministry is working closely with MOM and employers to ensure the well-being of these workers.
In its statement, MOM said that a “record number of Malaysian workers normally residing in Malaysia crossed over to Singapore” on Tuesday.
It also said that the “vast majority of them have been properly accommodated by their employers, through a variety of means”. These include staying with relatives, friends or colleagues; hotels and dormitories; as well as rooms or entire units in flats and private residential properties. “This was done despite employers and workers being given only 24 hours to react to the movement control order,” MOM said.
Officers from the High Commission of Malaysia and the Malaysian Association in Singapore were seen at Kranji MRT Station. Photo: Najeer Yusof/TODAY
When TODAY visited Kranji MRT Station at about 9pm on Thursday, there were no Malaysian workers looking to spend the night there.
About 20 minutes later, officers from the High Commission of Malaysia and the Malaysian Association in Singapore were spotted at the station looking for workers to whom they can provide help.
The association’s president Aarathi Arumugam told TODAY that they had received 20 requests for assistance in the last two days.
Urging Malaysians who need help to come forward, Deputy High Commissioner Muhammad Radzi Jamaludin, who came after reading TODAY’s report, said: “The news (of the lockdown) was quite sudden so we needed some time to materialise our plan and help these workers. This is a difficult situation for both workers and employers.” — TODAY