Some 100,000 foreign workers staying in illegal quarters

It is estimated that some 100,000 foreign workers are living in illegal accommodations across Singapore, due to a severe shortage of dormitory space.

One particular shophouse, for example, houses about 35 foreign workers. The narrow shophouse is cramped, and there are no windows or ventilation. In one of the rooms, six bunk beds are packed into a tight space measuring 1.5 metres by 6 metres.

Despite the squeeze, one worker said he would rather stay at this shophouse illegally, than in a dormitory.

“Ali” said: “(When) I stayed in the hostel (with workers from) India, Thailand, Bangladesh, some (of them would) drink, vomit on the floor. Some (would) want to fight. (All of us staying here are from) Bangladesh. (It is) comfortable, (there is) no fighting….(and) no drinking.”

But illegal dorms like this pose fire safety and public health risks.

Jolovan Wham, executive director, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said: “To comply with existing fire safety regulations, you need to have staircases and fire exits, and there cannot be too many people living in one place, otherwise it will pose as a fire hazard.

“Some of these living quarters are unhygienic and dirty, and not much is done to ensure that these places are suitable for workers to live in. So I think it is also in the national interest, in Singaporeans’ interest that foreign workers are housed in appropriate conditions that are clean and hygienic because it affects everyone’s living environment.”

Singapore’s National Development Ministry said that while private residential properties such as apartments or landed houses can be rented out to foreign workers, they should not be converted into workers’ dormitories.

Housing a large number of workers in private residential properties could affect the surrounding residents.

The National Development Ministry said that upon receiving a complaint, the Urban Redevelopment Authority will carry out an investigation and conduct a site inspection to ascertain the use of the premises.

If the unauthorised use persists, the owners or tenants may be charged in court for non-compliance of the Enforcement Notice.

If convicted, the offender may be fined up to S$200,000 or imprisoned for a term of up to 12 months or both.

If the offence continues after conviction, a fine of up to S$10,000 per day may be imposed.

However, the shortage of dormitories has forced many employers to house their foreign workers in illegal quarters.

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 18 Sep 2008

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