Covid-19 outbreak in dorms due to migrant workers' poor hygiene & bad habits: Zaobao forum letter

It's not an uncommon view among Chinese readers.

Joshua Lee| April 15, 01:24 PM

Amid the ever-increasing number of Covid-19 cases emerging from migrant worker dormitories, a forum letter writer has decided to give their take on the situation.

The forum letter was published by Lianhe Zaobao (LHZB) on Apr. 13.

Titled "No need for pointless criticism during a pandemic", the piece — written by one Li Shiwan —  urged readers not to blame the government for the current Covid-19 outbreak in migrant worker dormitories.

Instead, migrant workers themselves, wrote Li, have to take personal responsibility for their poor personal hygiene.

Many migrant workers come from backward countries and they bring their living habits here, said Li. This includes eating with their hands, eating under the trees and on the grass, and gathering together to drink and chat.

"Unless one changes their bad personal hygiene habits, they will bring these bad habits everywhere they go," Li wrote.

"The number of Covid-19 cases involving migrant workers have increased greatly. Aren't migrant workers themselves responsible for this state they are in now?

They like to gather and have poor personal hygiene. Surely that should be a factor?"

Instead, Li urged readers not to push more blame to the government, saying that the government has done a pretty satisfactory job.

Translation of forum letter

Below is a translation of Li's piece:

I remember when I was young, our family lived in a small public flat. Although the space was small, it was well-organised. My parents taught us how to tidy up the house, clean it, and practise good hygiene. My siblings and I could turn a small space into a beautiful home.

Life habits and self cultivation are developed from an early age. Look at the children who grow up with domestic helpers. Many of them don't have to lift a finger when it comes to their meals or their clothes. Can they do housework or clean the house? Nope, because they were not taught from young.

Among the foreigners working in Singapore, some of them are posted here as expats while others work in harder jobs like construction and public sanitation. Many of them come from backward countries.

They leave their hometowns and venture abroad to make a living. Their living habits will accompany them — such as eating with their hands, eating under the trees and on the grass, gathering together to drink and chat, etc.

People living in the countryside may be accustomed to insects such as cockroaches and lizards; city people will scream when they see these insects.

Recently I saw a report on a former senior official who put up a Facebook post saying that Singapore treats its guest workers with a third-world attitude. He mentioned that the government "allows" employers to ferry migrant workers in a lorry, crams them like sardines in small dormitories, and decried the poor sanitary conditions of the dormitories, etc.

It angers him to see migrant workers eating on the floor. It also upsets him to see them sleeping on the ground when they are tired.

The implication is that Singapore does not treat these migrant workers properly.

Migrant workers have the habit of gathering for meals and chats.

Sometimes, after having their meals at the void decks of HDB blocks, they cover their head and rest. As long as they don't disturb other people, everyone gets used to it and there's nothing to it.

But sometimes, I see that they leave their lunch boxes and drink cans behind, causing very bad environmental pollution.

Indeed, we have areas where we have done badly. But we also see that the government is continuously improving. The dormitories have beds, fans, cabinets, entertainment equipment, and basic facilities. Most importantly, there is also a helpline and volunteers to help solve the problem.

A person who has been in the construction industry for 10 years left a comment on the above post saying that the living conditions of migrant workers have changed a lot.

The newly-built dormitories have new bed frames, mattresses and cabinets, and the beds are arranged according to the room size, which meets the standards set by the authorities.

In addition, the dormitory also employs staff to tend to the cleanliness and hygiene of the place.

The point is, have the migrant workers living in the dormitory done their part? Is their personal hygiene adequate? Do they clean up the kitchen and throw away the waste after they cook? Do they clean and dry the toilets after using them? If they only rely on cleaning staff, the dormitories will never be completely cleaned.

Unless one changes their bad personal hygiene habits, they will bring these bad habits everywhere they go.

A friend once rented a house to a migrant worker, and was shocked when he took it back two years later. The kitchen, cabinets, sofa, etc. had cockroach tracks. My friend had to engage an exterminator to clean the entire house.

Even then, he left the house empty for two years and before selling it.

It's very easy to point fingers and criticise.

The number of Covid-19 cases involving migrant workers have increased greatly. Aren't migrant workers themselves responsible for this state they are in now?

They like to gather and have poor personal hygiene. Surely that should be a factor?

Instead of blaming the government, why not take personal responsibility? No government can provide a watertight solution to the pandemic. The Singapore government has already done a satisfactory job.

Not an uncommon view among Chinese readers

It might seem pretty jarring to see such a seemingly xenophobic forum letter printed in the papers, but a quick look at its comments section on Lianhe Zaobao's Facebook page shows that this is not an uncommon view among Chinese readers.

"Some people can turn a palace into a rubbish dump. Their home country is full of rubbish."

"Their accommodation isn't an issue. The problems lies with migrant workers. Even if they stay in a HDB flat, the problem will still persist. They're very dirty."

"I used to work in a dormitory. Every morning I would see rubbish and empty food packets strewn all over the place. Leftovers, clothes, and unwanted stuff would be littered everywhere on the ground, leaving the cleaning staff to clear everything. This was a daily sight. Without self-discipline, even a better accommodation would not change things."

"They like to touch here and touch there. Indian men like to hold hands. Actually, their personal hygiene habits are different from ours."

Of course there are netizens who disagreed with Li:

"This letter is based on the racism that this writer and many Singaporeans have. It serves to promote discrimination against other races."

"Funnily, the writer urged people not to point fingers, but goes on to blame the migrant workers and their personal hygiene."

It is true that there is much to improve when it comes to the living conditions of migrant workers. If we want to bring this topic to the fore for a meaningful discussion, perhaps we should also try to understand the thinking behind points of view like this.

Top image via Change.org