Rahman's Story (Part II)

"If our lives were not in danger, no Afghani would have risk his life."

Our conversation resumed this morning during work. The human smuggling trade is dark but huge. An Afghani will need to pay an agent between US$5,000 - $15,000 to get a boatman to smuggle them to Australian waters. No one is sure how much a boatman is paid but it has to be substantial enough for an Indonesian to take up the task. 

You can't really win as a boatman. At best, you get thrown into jail for a unknown length of term. At worse, you die. There are many ways to die taking up an assignment. Drowning is the most common one. Hunger is another. Even being murdered by angry refugees might be a possibility. Likely to be less sea-worthy than a boatman, any refugee faces a higher chance to die from respective causes than a boatman.

Rahman spent 14 days in the sea in a boat with 28 other Afghanis. They experienced 10 metres high waves during storms at night and grilling from the sun during the day. All of them had been warned that many of these sea ventures turned out fatal. Boats had been known to capsize with no survivors.  Yet thongs of refugees left their families and loved ones behind and tempted fate. Rahman revealed many grown men cried openly in fear during their voyage. It was hard to stay strong while the resolve of every single man around you was weakening by the day. Moreover, they brought along rations enough only to last 7 days, hardly enough for the length of time they spent in sea.

I asked Rahman how would his life turn out should he not get arrested by the Australian coast guards and handed over to the customs. He told me solemnly he would have been dead for sure. Even if they landed in Australian shores safely, there would be no chance of survival.

"There was nothing. Nothing at all out there. Nothing out in the sea, the islands and probably nothing at the shores," he told me. "We were glad to be arrested. In fact, we wanted to get arrested. That was the only way we will survive."

Rahman eventually spent 8 months learning English at his refugee camp. He told me he was in camp for 2-3 months yesterday. It didn't matter if the figures were dodgy. Rahman probably could not remember, or chose not to. I don't blame him. These dark days were not exactly moments anyone would like to reminisce and I could tell he is very forward looking now. He works as many hours as I did with my previous job, including 3 consecutive Saturdays already. I am working with him tomorrow. Overtime on a Saturday in my first week of work. Sounds like a familiar story doesn't it? The boss promised a 1.5x rate so I am not complaining. I needed money just like Rahman does.

"Do you know how much would a worker be paid in Singapore, doing what you are doing?" I asked Rahman casually.

"How much?"

"S$24." That was how much a worker was paid less than a year ago, when I was handling 2 dozens of them.

"An hour?" Rahman asked. That was probably close to how much he is being paid here in this job.

"Per day. 8 hours full," came my reply.

Rahman suddenly stopped his work and even turned off the motor of the chamfering machine he was operating. He turned to face me and asked in an almost deliberate slow manner, "Why?"

Without facing him, I shrugged and shot back, "That's a good question."

Not letting go, Rahman continued, "That's like Afghanistan!"

I couldn't help but gave a laugh. This time I looked up and faced him, "Do you know how much is a Big Mac in Singapore?"


  1. I like Rahman's story... Looking forward to a serial.

  2. omg.

    nevertheless i am humbled by this man's story.

  3. Yes I read "Kite Runner". It's a very moving and touching story about the Afghans. It depicts the fortunes and lives of those Afghans. Most of them migrated to US. Their sense of community is very strong. They too suffered much under the Telebans. The Afghan spirit is strong indeed!

  4. It is always good to remember how lucky we are and that many people in the world face great hardship and unhappiness. His story is an inspiration to all

    1. though we get paid the same rates as in afghanistan!

    2. Zororz, I assumed you're not a foreign labour and you're not paid $24/day. I doubt any Singaporean will take up a job that get $24/day these days.

      So we're not paid the same rates as in Afghanistan, and we won't swim across the border, risk our life, that is fills with Sharks.

      Nevertheless, I loved the Rahman Story.

    3. @Anon 18:04:
      "Zororz, I assumed you're not a foreign labour and you're not paid $24/day. I doubt any Singaporean will take up a job that get $24/day these days."

      ARE U SURE? Have u, or any immediate family members worked as a low wage worker in SINKaPOOR before?

      Many low wage Sinkies are paid only S$24/day or slightly better than S$24/day in STINKaPOOR, where the politicians are paid millions like nobody's business.

      My mum is not a foreign labour. My mum is a local true blue Singaporean who is born here and grow up here in STINKaPOOR. Now she is 60 yrs old.

      She is paid only slightly better than S$24/day - she is paid S$32/day (another S$8 more per day) as a FULL-TIME cleaner in a Govt tertiary institution in SILLYPOOR, working 6 days/week, with 7 days annual leave, no medical leave, no medical claim, etc.

      No 13th month bonus - only 2 weeks annual bonus. Total annual gross salary (inclusive of the 2 weeks annual bonus) is approx. S$10.2k/year.

      Working hour: 7:15am to 4:30pm. Minus off 30min lunch and 20min tea break, her average pay is less than S$4/hour.

      My mum pays S$9/month (S$108/year) to the union (BATU) under the NTUC umbrella of unions, but what have the union fight for her and the other low-wage cleaners in SINKaPOOR?

      In fact, her pay is consider "good", coz there are many other cleaners who are paid lower than her in SINKaPOOR. In fact, my mum get S$850/mth after working for more than 6 years with S$10+ increment per year. Her starting pay is only $700++ as a cleaner (less than S$3.50/hour).

      Are u aware that some LOCAL part-time cleaners are only paid S$2.50-S$3.00/hour in STINKaPOOR? If got time, go and check out the cleaners at Changi Airport (esp. those working in the VIP lounge) and u will know the REALITY?

    4. Anon 20:07;

      Can you provide evidence that the cleaners at Changi Airport earns $2.5 - $3/hr?

      How much do you earn? Why would you let your mum works as a cleaner at AGE 60? I hope she is not trying to support you.

      $32 is not $24, and certainly not $850/month.

      If your mum works for 6 years in the same employment, she would have be entitled 12 days annual leave; and also sick leave. Especially since she works 6 days/week; in Gov tertiary instituion. All black & white in MOM website. If the company is in infringement, then I would suggest you should complain to MOM.

      So unless you're just bull shit.

  5. 啼笑皆非,百感交集...

  6. I've got an Afghan student in one of my classes. Sometimes I wonder if his dad was a refugee as well. There is a chance he probably was.