Foreign workers to be housed next to cemetery

Foreign workers to be housed next to cemetery


Two dormitory blocks for 12,000 workers coming up less than 20m from Lim Chu Kang cemetery


By Nur Dianah Suhaimi


THEIR neighbour is a sprawling cemetery with thousands of graves.


Not quite an ideal place to live in, you say?


But in six months’ time, about 12,000 foreign workers will have to live with that reality.


They will be housed in two blocks of dormitories less than 20m from the Muslim cemetery in Lim Chu Kang. The dormitories will be managed by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).


Located at the far end of the cluster of Muslim, Christian and Chinese cemeteries, the dormitories are isolated. The nearest housing estate and shops are in Jurong West, at least 5km away.


At night, the cemetery area is pitch dark as there are no lamps around. As the last few cemetery visitors leave, the place becomes eerily quiet, lending it a spooky feel.


When told of the dormitories, one migrants’ welfare group described the location as ‘social isolation’, while half of some 20 foreign workers polled by The Sunday Times said they would rather not live so near a cemetery.


There are currently 30 commercially run dormitories for foreign workers, with another three under construction, including the two in Lim Chu Kang.


Many are tucked away in the corners of Singapore and found within industrial estates in areas like Jurong, Boon Lay and Woodlands.


Due to the lack of amenities in the area, the two Lim Chu Kang dormitories, called Murai One and Murai Two, will be self-contained, said the BCA.


The dormitories will have their own gymnasium, reading rooms, outdoor games courts, mini-mart, canteen and even a barber shop.


There are about 500,000 foreign workers in Singapore and more are due to arrive this year to meet the demands of the construction boom.


The influx has resulted in complaints from Singaporeans who feel that their estates are being ‘invaded’.


MPs have been fielding complaints from residents that foreign workers drink, litter and even urinate at the void decks.


The Straits Times Forum page regularly receives similar complaints from readers.


The Urban Redevelopment Authority and BCA told The Sunday Times that a key consideration when choosing dormitory sites is their location.


Said BCA spokesman Leong Ee Leng: ‘Residents may not be tolerant of such facilities being located too near their homes. Generally, workers’ dormitories are located away from existing residential areas.’


Dormitories are also not built too near polluted industrial areas which may pose a safety hazard to the foreign workers.


When The Sunday Times asked 20 foreign workers from India, Bangladesh and China if they would have any qualms about living beside the cemetery, half were reluctant because of superstitions associated with such a site.


Said a 27-year-old Bangladeshi construction worker: ‘I don’t think I will be able to sleep at night.’


Mr J. Huang, 40, a construction worker from China, said it was bad luck and spooky to live beside a cemetery.


The other 10 said they would not mind but would rather live elsewhere if given a choice.


A recent survey by the Singapore Contractors Association generated different results.


When it got wind of the Murai projects, the association surveyed 1,000 workers of various nationalities to find out if they minded living near the cemetery. Around 95 per cent said they had no issues with this.


Said the association’s dormitory manager Uonos Mohamed: ‘The workers don’t care what is outside as long as the living quarters are comfortable and transportation to work is available.’


Mr Jolovan Wham, who runs the migrants’ welfare group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, felt that housing foreign workers at the cemetery ‘is as good as social isolation’.


‘Even if the workers are not superstitious, it sends them a clear signal on where their social position is in our country,’ he said.


Mr John Gee, president of Transient Workers Count Too, an advocacy group for migrant workers, said foreign workers should not be left to live ‘in the wilderness’.


‘They need some place where they can have access to shops nearby and are free to step out any time.’


Last year, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said that housing workers on Semakau Island or Pulau Ubin was out of the question as ‘foreign workers need to have easy access to amenities’.


However, cinema manager Ng Hui Ying felt that even if the foreign workers are housed in a relatively remote place, they are still too close for comfort.


Ms Ng, 32, has seen foreign workers littering, sleeping and urinating at her void deck in Jurong West.


‘These workers are mobile and can visit the nearby housing estates if they want,’ she said.


Said a 22-year-old construction worker from India: ‘I don’t think Singaporeans like us very much. They need foreign workers to build their flats but expect us to be invisible.’


Source: Straits Times

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