SINGAPORE – When travel restrictions were imposed in March last year, Malaysian postmen working in Singapore faced an agonising dilemma.
Should they go home to their loved ones or stay for their jobs?
For the Malaysian Muslim staff who stayed on, it means spending a second Ramadan apart from their families.
More than 30 of them were recognised at SingPost’s annual iftar (breaking of fast) session, held virtually on Friday night (April 16).
Mr Khairul Faris Abdul Wahab was left with only hours to decide whether or not to go home after Malaysia announced its movement control order (MCO) at the start of the pandemic.
“I was torn between going back to Malaysia or staying in Singapore,” said the 29-year-old, who has been a postman for three years and delivers mail to Balestier and Kallang.
“My family convinced me to stay here to continue supporting them.”
Then, in June, his father was hospitalised and had intestinal surgery.
Mr Faris added: “I felt like crying each time I looked at photos of my father in the hospital. I couldn’t focus on work sometimes because I was feeling very upset about his situation and not being able to be there.”
Though his father’s condition has now improved, he sometimes worries about him and his mother, who live alone in Malaysia.
Mr Faris was excited and relieved when he called his parents to check on them and asked what they were eating for iftar that evening.
Mr Azrizal Abd Malik, who has been separated from his wife and four-year-old son in Malaysia for more than a year, calls them every night from Singapore to make up for not being there to watch his child grow.
The 33-year-old, who has been a postman here for six years and delivers mail to Bedok, said of his decision to keep working: “It saddened me but I have to work in order to support my family.”
Mr Muhd Aizuddin Musa, 28, lost his uncle earlier this year and broke up with his girlfriend due to their inability to meet since the MCO was imposed.
He has been a postman for about five years and delivers mail to Sengkang and Hougang.
“When my uncle died, Covid-19 cases in Malaysia were quite high,” he said. “I was afraid I would not be able to enter Singapore again if I went back to see my family.”
He was grateful to have experienced some Hari Raya festivity here with his Malaysian colleagues and remains optimistic about the Covid-19 situation improving.
“My friends and family convinced me that it is better to wait in Singapore for the pandemic to improve,” he said. “Here, I can meet my friends for iftar and visit mosques because the situation is better.
“The people at SingPost are like my second family. The staff cared for us and gave us Hari Raya food last year. It wasn’t so bad after all.”
Mr Azrizal will rejoin his family in May via the Periodic Commuting Arrangement scheme, a safe travel lane agreed between the governments of Singapore and Malaysia.
He said: “When I finally meet my family, I will hug them tightly. My wife told me she was very excited and can’t wait for me to be back.”
The scheme, implemented in August, allows residents of Singapore and Malaysia with long-term immigration passes for business and work purposes in the other country to periodically return home for short-term home leave.
SingPost’s annual iftar was attended by Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, and Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, and National Development Sim Ann.
After the postmen described their experiences, Mr Iswaran said: “To be separated from your family for a long time is difficult to cope with. We deeply appreciate the sacrifices of the staff.”
Mr Aizuddin remains hopeful that the borders will reopen.
He said: “I may be celebrating my second Hari Raya in Singapore, but I hope Malaysia and Singapore will have good news. Maybe I can even return home to celebrate Hari Raya this year.”