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Bangladeshi migrant deported from Singapore over 'misleading public posts'

  • News Desk, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2022-06-23 12:08:18 BdST

A Bangladeshi migrant worker has returned home from Singapore after the city-state refused to renew his work permit in light of a 'misleading' post he made on social media.

Zakir Hossain Khokan, 43, had been working in Singapore for 19 years. During that time, he had been active in local literary circles and founded two community groups, reports The Straits Times.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Zakir said he had been working in the construction industry but was notified by his employer on May 24 that his work permit had expired and could not be renewed.

The work permit renewal system had initially reflected an "adverse record with a government agency", according to Zakir.

"Following my HR’s advice, I hurried to the Police Cantonment Complex and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to enquire about the 'adverse record'. Both authorities informed me that there was no adverse record in the system," he said.

"According to a reply by the then Minister of Manpower, Josephine Teo, if the reason of 'adverse record' has been given for non-renewal, 'the worker would be aware of the offence he committed' and 'enforcement actions would have been taken against him'. Both did not happen with my case."

Zakir was later told that this was an administrative error and that his work permit was "ineligible" for renewal.

Responding to media queries, the Ministry of Manpower said it takes into account various factors when assessing an applicant's suitability to work in Singapore and for work passes to be renewed.

Highlighting the fact that Zakir, by his own account, had been allowed to work in Singapore for 19 years, the ministry added: "Through his time in Singapore, he has written often about migrant workers here. We renewed his work pass many times despite his activism and writings."

"We draw the line, however, when public posts are misleading, false or deliberately provocative."

A Facebook post made by Zakir in October 2021 following a confrontation at a migrant dormitory between workers and management was central to the ministry's decision.

The issue allegedly stemmed from the poor quality of food at the facility and long delays in transporting workers with COVID-19 to recovery and healthcare facilities and had drawn riot police to the scene.

In the wake of the incident, Zakir had called migrant workers in Singapore "work slaves", and dormitories "work camps", according to the manpower ministry.

He also alleged that soldiers and armoured vehicles had surrounded the dormitory.

 

"This was a false characterisation. There were no soldiers, let alone armoured vehicles, around," the ministry said.

Zakir had also signed off his post as from the "workers of Westlite Tukang", though he never lived there, it added.

According to the authorities, Zakir's statements could have incited migrant workers at the dormitory and elsewhere, inflamed their emotions and possibly caused incidents of public disorder.

But Zakir said the issues he raised "were not new". "The pandemic was a catalyst which sparked many to speak about social issues, migrants or locals alike. I only raised these issues because I saw them happening around me and it was unbearable. I myself had contracted COVID-19 and was quarantined multiple times due to crowded dormitory conditions," he said.

"Singapore is my home away from home, and I want her to do better as a country. For that, she has to learn to listen to its people, even migrants. I spoke up because I believe that conditions for migrant workers can improve in Singapore. I love the country and I wanted Singapore to be the example for other countries to follow."

Although Zakir had appealed the non-renewal of his work pass, his employer did not.

"The ability of a foreigner to work in Singapore is not an entitlement. Mr Zakir has been permitted to work in Singapore for a long time, though he was a long-time activist.

"His work pass has since expired. He cannot prolong his stay when he no longer has a job in Singapore. He has overstayed his welcome."

Zakir returned to Bangladesh on Jun 8 after spending nearly two decades working in Singapore's construction sector.

During his time there, he founded the literary interest group 'Migrant Writers of Singapore' and started 'One Bag, One Book', a book-sharing project for foreign workers that later helped to distribute supplies to migrant workers living in dormitories when COVID-19 struck, The Straits Times reports.