Initiative launched on Google Sheets to collate support for migrant workers affected by Covid-19

PHOTO: ST / Desmond Wee

Last night held a harrowing update for the Covid-19 outbreak in Singapore: a record high of 120 new coronavirus cases, with many linked to two dormitories that house migrant workers. 

Now, nearly 20,000 of them have been quarantined and they will have to stay in their rooms for two weeks. As you can imagine — and as The Straits Times found out — the quarantine conditions are far from ideal. Even veteran diplomat and Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh didn’t mince his words when he wrote today (April 6) about how Singapore treats its foreign workers, who make up a significant portion of the country’s labour force. 

On top of cramped living areas, pest-ridden lodgings and unsanitary conditions, their problems are exacerbated by the fact that they aren’t allowed to leave the premises to stock up on supplies (though daily meals, hand sanitisers, thermometers and medical assistance are provided by the authorities).  

It’s clear that Singapore’s migrant workers could do with a little assistance, and various migrant advocacy groups and community partners are already doing everything they can to do so. To streamline the crowdfunded contributions, a directory has been set up on a public Google Sheets document to list down the urgent support and services that these migrant workers would need. 

"Over the past months, the migrant advocacy groups have been trying in their capacities to support needs, however since Monday, this scale has grown exponentially. We realised the need for the communities to partner strategically to channel appropriate donations, without overwhelming the ground," shared Kari Tamura Chua, the co-founder of SamaSama, a Facebook group that seeks to improve the lives of low-wage migrant workers here. 

"Therefore we started working on this sheet so to gather priority needs from NGOs, and since then it had caught wave online where people started adding their information and stating help they can provide."

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), for example, could use some help to top-up SIM cards for the quarantined migrant workers who might find it difficult to contact their loved ones in dormitories with limited Wi-Fi coverage.

"Workers tell us they get goodie bags containing masks, sanitisers and [other essentials] all the time. But what they don’t get and really want are top-up cards that let them call home or buy data plans. Some workers don’t even have the basic balance in their cards to receive phone calls, much less make one. Therefore we saw a very real need to provide this service," TWC2 General Manager Ethan Guo told AsiaOne. 

"Not all dormitories have wifi, and you can imagine wifi will be very slow or unusable when you have over 10,000 workers trying to access a hotspot at one time. We're already in the process of reaching out to these workers through social media and word-of-mouth to perform this top-up without having to meet them in person." 

Other individuals and organisations are welcome to chip in as well. Writers, sponsors, fundraisers, social media managers, translators, web designers and more have already put down their names into the Google Sheets document to offer their services wherever needed. As of writing, there are over 80 professional parties who stand ready to provide assistance to the migrant community. 

The directory is spearheaded by a team of volunteers who created the spreadsheet yesterday (April 5) in light of the news of a wider outbreak among migrant workers. 

Meanwhile, fundraising efforts are still ongoing. "In parallel to raising support for our NGOs, we are launching a fundraising campaign with Migrant’s Workers Center (MWC), who will be able to centralise donations and channel them to the dorms which need support ASAP," Kari affirmed. 

"Funds are still required for NGOs as well, as per the sheet. They will be stepping in to ensure this is a humanitarian effort rather than a national security crisis."

ilyas@asiaone.com