With so many tales of disenchantment migrant workers seem fated to endure in quest of a better life for themselves and their families, has been added yet another ordeal. As told by those who had to return home in this pandemic situation, they had to leave their earnings in their host countries.
Unfortunately, a percentage of these returnee migrant workers were rounded up from public places and then detained before being deported. But they could not bring with them their earnings of hard labour as much of their precious dollars were either not paid by their employers or mopped up allegedly by their pursuers or were given away as loans to coworkers or friends from other countries.
Presumably unbeknown to the international media, or to the appropriate host government agencies who they (migrant workers) might at least hope to get a patient hearing from, or to the rights bodies looking after the migrant workers' interests, or to the officials of our own foreign missions in those countries, the cases of the wage earners' so detained went unheard and as such unaddressed. Consequently, as found in a recent study by a local research group tracking refugees and migrant workers, most of them came home empty-handed leaving their incomes amounting on an average around Tk. 175,000 per person abroad.
Since 74 per cent of the returnee labourers reported similar stories of misery, it is undoubtedly a huge loss not only to the returnee workers concerned but also to the national exchequer in terms of the lost remittance receipts. And this happened at a time when the pandemic-hit Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries, which are the major employers of our migrant workers, have resorted to massive layoffs rendering a large chunk of the migrant workforce redundant. Such development has already led to the return of migrant workers in thousands and a consequent reduction in the inflow of remittance dollars. And now we have this fresh twist to this situation, the issue of deported penniless workers.
However, considering the circumstances of the deported migrant workers, what intrigues one is what might have come in the way of our overseas diplomatic missions' effort to rescue these hapless people from their predicament! If timely actions had been taken through bringing up the matter with the appropriate authorities of the host governments, unfortunate consequences like these could probably have been avoided.
Another issue of no less concern is the human rights situation of the migrant workers in the host countries. There are allegations that the deported returnees were maltreated during their detention in the host countries. This is unfortunate, especially in the context of the pandemic. Why should the workers have been victims of arbitrary arrests as alleged? Could not there have been a negotiated return? A part of the responsibility lay with the officials concerned of the diplomatic mission to help those detained persons, who are citizens of Bangladesh.
More so when help from pro-migrant workers rights groups was reportedly not forthcoming or relevant UN provisions, especially, the 1990 UN worker convention seemed to be not in a position to be of help in the situation.
The government should look into the matter and ensure that our diplomatic missions are proactively engaged with their host governments to avoid future repetition of similar incidents. And in particular, secure the repatriation of their earnings.