The Financial Express

Pandemic clouds future for BD migrants stranded at home

| Updated: July 11, 2020 09:35:06

Representational image — Reuters Representational image — Reuters

Md Rezaul Islam, a 30-year-old native of Singair in Manikganj, went to Saudi Arabia in 2008 for work by borrowing about Tk 250,000 from relatives, bdnews24.com reports.

He worked there as a traffic signal electrician for 550 riyals a month. His wife, children, elderly parents and younger brother were dependent on his earnings.

Islam returned to Bangladesh due to illness in February and got stuck as the coronavirus pandemic led to the suspension of air travel before he was scheduled to go back to Saudi Arabia on March 20.

Md Shahin, 35, another resident of Singair who went to Qatar in 2010 as a migrant worker by borrowing money and selling land, is also stranded after returning home on vacation.

Unemployed in their homeland, both Islam and Shahin have borrowed about Tk 100,000 each to provide for their families during the crisis.

But now they are left wondering how long they will get loans from relatives as they stare at an uncertain future with no end to the crisis in sight.

Like Islam and Shahin, more than 200,000 returnees from foreign countries are stranded in Bangladesh due to the pandemic, according to Shariful Hasan, programme head of BRAC Migration.

He cited data from the home ministry and the expatriates’ welfare desk at Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka.

Even after the travel bans began, about 20,000 Bangladeshi workers returned home from abroad via chartered flights.

Moreover, 200,000 other prospective workers could not leave the country in the four months from March.

Highlighting the possibilities of a prolonged crisis, Hasan believes the government should pay more attention to containing the outbreak in Bangladesh now to ensure that the other countries take back the workers and employ more as the world has begun reopening.

In a grim example of what Hasan warned of, Italy on Thursday banned travellers from Bangladesh until October 05 after finding a number of coronavirus cases on a flight from Bangladesh.

Marina Sultana, programme director at Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, does not expect the stranded workers returning to the countries of their employment any time soon.

Besides implementing the plans to provide assistance to the beleaguered migrant workers, the government's focus should be on skills development to enable them to cope with the changing situation.

She also urged the government to raise its voice about international rules that stipulate the host countries must protect migrant workers in times of crisis.

Recruiting agencies struggling to survive

With the recruitment of new workers, both locals and migrants, coming to a halt across the globe, the agencies that export manpower from Bangladesh are struggling for survival.

About 1,600 agencies spend a total of Tk 450 million a month on more than 40,000 workers and other purposes, according to Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, general secretary of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies or BAIRA.

The pause on manpower export for four months has caused them a loss of at least Tk 2.0 billion, Noman claimed.

Md Amzad Hossain, who runs the recruiting agency Gulf Associates, said he could not pay office rent for four months as the agency has no work. He finally had to leave Dhaka after failing to pay his house rent.

“Where will we go if we lose the job?” asked a worker of a recruiting agency.

What the people in charge say

Md Shamsul Alam, the director-general of the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training, said the government has made arrangements for skills development of overseas workers who want to return to the countries of their employment.

They can also open businesses in Bangladesh by taking loans of up to Tk 500,000 from a Tk 2.0 billion fund raised by the government for their rehabilitation.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also earmarked Tk 5.0 billion for the loan fund.  

Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, secretary of expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment, said the government was communicating with foreign diplomats to extend the visas of Bangladeshi migrant workers and ensure their return once flight operations become normal.

Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmed could not be reached for comments.

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