The quick Geylang clear-out

The quick Geylang clear-out
Discarded household items like mattresses were piled up at refuse bins at Lorong 6 Geylang on Monday evening.

The Chinese workers were told on Sunday night they had only a day to move out of their accommodation.

And it didn't matter where they went, as long as they were out of the house.

All this came after a fire at an apartment down the road in the wee hours of Friday morning left two dead and three injured.

The house at 86A, Lorong 6 Geylang, had been illegally partitioned and converted into foreign worker accommodation housing over 30 foreign workers.

Under Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) rules, a rental unit cannot be partitioned to create more rooms, and there can only be a maximum of eight occupants in the unit, no matter the size.

By Monday, landlords across Geylang appear to have reacted to the fire, possibly for fear of having their flats inspected, as they hastily tried to clear out their tenants.

Refuse bins outside houses were filled with objects like mattresses and household appliances. Several foreign workers were seen dragging luggage bags, but declined to comment when approached.

On Monday evening, when The New Paper managed to enter a house on Lorong 6 Geylang, about 100m away from where Friday's fire happened, its occupants were busy clearing out.

Packed suitcases were seen on the first storey while empty bed frames lay in some of the rooms.

There were five rooms on the second and third levels, and what used to be the living room on the first storey had been divided into at least three rooms.

A man, clad only in his briefs, was packing when TNP entered the unit.

Declining to be named for fear of reprisal, he pointed to his windowless room, which measured about 3m by 4m. There were two bunk beds crammed into it with belongings strewn about, including two trays of eggs.

The man said there used to be six people living in the room but most had already left.

On the third storey, a Chinese national who wanted to be known only as Mr Chen, showed us his bedroom measuring about 1.5 metres by 2 metres.

The factory worker said he paid $200 a month for the sparsely-furnished room, which he shared with another foreign worker. A bunk bed occupied most of the space, leaving barely any walking room.

Mr Chen told TNP the unit housed Chinese and Malaysian nationals. He said he was told to move out only the night before, on Sunday, and had until Monday night to clear out.

Mr Chen said: "I don't know why I'm moving out but as long as I get paid, I can live anywhere."

As we were leaving, he said in Mandarin: "You wouldn't want to move in here. Look around you, do you think it's good? Don't be fooled."

GRIMY

There was a dank smell all over the house and the floors looked grimy. Dust covered much of the ceiling and walls, and bundles of wire were left exposed.

TNP also visited a second-storey apartment on Lorong 4 Geylang, which was shared by a number of Bangladeshi workers.

One of the men, who wanted to be known only as Darsh, said he shared the 16 sq m room - about the size of a HDB flat bedroom - with three compatriots.

They each had a bunk bed - they slept on the lower bunks and stored their belongings on the upper one.

Darsh said: "The room is much smaller than my room back home but I'm happy with the living conditions."

He did not want to say how many other tenants were living in the flat.

Like Darsh, not all workers are unhappy with their living conditions.

They said that they are not worried despite the recent fire in their neighbourhood because they are not living in cramped conditions.

A Chinese national who lives in a third-storey unit above a coffee shop at Lorong 10 Geylang said there are constant spot checks on their accommodation.

The staircase leading to his unit was narrow and dark but the unit was spacious, with three rooms and a large cooking area.

The construction worker, who wanted to be known only as Mr Hong, 46, has been sharing one of those rooms with three co-workers for the past two years.

His room is next to several stoves but he is not too worried.

He said: "The people here don't cook often anyway. Besides, as we are located above the coffee shop, there are more checks on this unit to make sure there is no overcrowding.

"There is also another exit at the other side of the apartment so if there's a fire, we won't all be stuck in one spot."

But Mr Hong, who has been working in Singapore for the past 11 years, admitted his current accommodation is more spacious than his previous ones.

He said: "This is Singapore after all, space is limited."

Responding to media queries, the URA said 86A, Lorong 6 Geylang, did not have planning permission to be used as workers' dormitories and the case was being jointly investigated with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

"The URA and the rest of (the) government take a serious view of such infringement. The December fire case which killed four workers was similarly jointly investigated by URA, Police, MOM and SCDF, which have submitted a joint prosecution of the persons responsible," the URA spokesman said.

She added that URA had recommended severe sentences because of the seriousness of the offence, and that the Attorney-General's Chambers was reviewing the case.

Report compiled by Elizabeth Law, David Sun, Godwin Ng and Linette Heng

tnp@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 8, 2015.
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