Finding the silver lining

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“Until now I stay at HOME. I’ve waited 15 months for my case. It has not been completed. Sometimes I think this is all unfair. Why do I have to wait for this? I need to earn money and help my parents.”

Idiyah* came to Singapore to earn money to support her family of six in Bandung, Indonesia. She knew about the nature of the job, and was prepared to work hard, but nothing could prepare her for the physical abuse, constant surveillance and complete isolation that awaited her. Idiyah was not allowed a hand phone, to call back home or even talk to the neighbours. The only time Idiyah, who did not have a day off, left the house, was when she was sent to her employer’s relative’s place for additional household chores – illegal deployment, which is not allowed in Singapore. Apart from that, Idiyah was trapped in her employers’ three-storey bungalow.

Things got worse when her employer suspected Idiyah of stealing one of her towels, and hit her on the head with a car key and slapped her face. Distraught, Idiyah requested to be sent back to her agent.

“But they said I need to pay them $6000 if I want to return to my agency”.

Idiyah was still paying off agency fees, and received only $10 allowance per month. She was trapped. The next time her employer hit her with a broom. One Sunday morning Idiyah ran away to seek help at the Ministry of Manpower. A friendly cab driver brought her to HOME at Orchard Road instead.

“When I called home and told my mother everything she cried. She asked me to come home. I want to go home too but everybody said I have to wait for the case.”

Idiyah stayed at the HOME shelter while her cases for illegal deployment and abuse were investigated. Idiyah expected it to be a speedy procedure but ended up waiting fifteen months for the investigations to be completed. During this time her father suffered a stroke, but Idiyah had to remain in Singapore while the investigations continued.

Despite the difficulties, Idiyah found solace in the activities at HOME’s shelter; she learnt sewing, and volunteered at HOME’s Waterloo Street office, assisting other migrant workers. Hers was always a smiling in the office and she found joy in helping others in a position similar to hers.

“During my stay at HOME I learnt a lot of things. I understand how to respect other people. It is a wonderful feeling. Sometimes I felt sad when I miss my family but I always try to smile and look happy. I try to be stronger.”

In the end, Idiyah decided not to press charges against her employers for the abuse, as she did not want to prolong the wait. Idiyah has returned to Indonesia but wants to come back to Singapore to work. Despite her experience, she has grown a lot, and during her stay at HOME improved her English, gained confidence, and made friends. She even learned some Tagalog from her Filipino friends! Idiyah believes she could now deal with whatever challenges may come her way.

Idiyah made the most of her time at HOME’s shelter, but the frustration and anxiety that she experienced during the fifteen-month wait for her case to be resolved were hard to endure. Underneath her smile, she was in pain.  Singapore does not have a comprehensive victim protection system to ensure that workers like Idiyah have adequate social support whilst awaiting the outcome of their case. Apart from this, measures to speed up the processing of investigations need to be implemented to ensure that victims are not themselves ‘punished’ again with long waits during which they are unable to provide for themselves and their families.

*Not her real name

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