Migrant worker rights group Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home) will open a third drop-in centre and hopes to open another shelter as well.
The drop-in centre will offer help and advice to migrant workers in the sex and nightspot trade; the shelter is meant for suspected victims of labor and sex trafficking whose cases are under investigation.
These plans come even as a government inter-agency task force looks into whether there are enough shelters for victims of human trafficking, under a national plan drawn up to address the issue.
Home, a non-governmental organization set up in 2004, already runs two drop-in centers – one for foreign domestic workers and the other for construction workers. Besides this, it also runs two shelters, both operating at full capacity with a total of 75 residents.
Its new drop-in centre, to open next month in the Orchard vicinity, will have a reception area and three rooms where visitors can be counseled and, if necessary, referred to relevant welfare agencies for other forms of help.
The team manning the place will also train a group of sex and entertainment workers on sexual health by giving them pamphlets and videos on safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases – they can then share the information with their peers.
Home will also partner several voluntary welfare organizations to provide anonymous HIV testing and to carry out health-education outreach.
The president of Home, Bridget Tan, said the number of entertainment nightspots has grown in the last few years, and with more tourists passing through, the spread of HIV is a problem.
The drop-in centre is the first such facility in the Orchard area, and is sited there because no welfare group for sex workers and those employed by pubs and bars operates there now. This is unlike in Geylang, where church groups are already reaching out to sex workers.
Tan said: “It's common sense that if you want to reach out to them, you have to be where the action is.”
She declined to reveal the exact location of the centre for privacy and safety reasons.
The centre, expected to cost S$100,000 (US$78,382) a year to run, is funded by private organizations which Home declined to name.
For its upcoming shelter, Home hopes to accommodate 200 to 300 residents.
No site has been identified yet, but Home plans to discuss the idea with the relevant authorities next month and to get funding and subsidized rental.
Already, Home's two existing shelters for migrant workers are temporary homes for about 1,000 such workers every year. Of the number, 600 are suspected victims of labor trafficking, and just over a dozen are suspected victims of sex trafficking, said Tan.
Home identifies these cases using the International Labor Organization’s definition of human trafficking, which is considered to have occurred if a worker is coerced or exploited when recruited in his or her home country or upon arrival in a foreign country.
The Singaporean government has maintained that human trafficking is not severe here, even though certain forms of it do occur.
The police received 43 reports of sex trafficking last year; another 67 cases were found to show signs of labor trafficking, said the Manpower Ministry.
Tan suggests that victims of trafficking be housed separately from other migrant workers, particularly if their trauma was sexual in nature.
“You need to handle the cases with greater sensitivity and privacy,” she said.
Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, the vice-president of Transient Workers Count Too, another migrant worker welfare group, agrees.
She said: “Issues arise when you mix the residents. Victims of sex traffickers often feel stigmatized.”
“They need a safe place where they feel protected so they will come forward to help in investigations and do not go back to the streets where they are vulnerable to being re-trafficked.”