Defending migrants' rights abroad
Reports on every boat capsize in the Mediterranean create concern as to whether there is any Bangladeshi national among the victims. Few stories of sufferings of expatriate workers in the Middle East and the Southeast Asia come into public attention. More remain in the dark.
Bangladesh still boasts receipt of remittances amounting to more than US$20 billion a year while the foreign currency earners pay some price. These migrants mostly do 'odd' jobs, and face harassment and torture at workplaces and sometimes imprisonment in the receiving countries. They are commonly exploited for not having valid documents.
People who sacrifice the best part of their lives staying abroad helplessly are well-treated nowhere. Poor skills and lack of proper education are blamed for lower pay but engaging and retaining them as illegal workers by employers or host governments is no less a critical issue that makes them modern-day slaves.
No agency can provide authentic data of exactly how many Bangladeshis are working abroad, like the amount remitted (or siphoned off) through informal channels. Absence of a large number of people from the scene - be it population census or antenna of the regulatory authorities - leaves certain confusion in determining, for example, an accurate demand of foods in the country.
The macro issue of undocumented workers in major destinations such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Malaysia is discussed officially for securing 'amnesty', not for guaranteeing entitlements as per local and international laws.
We don't notice carefully how Bangladeshi men and women are trafficked to civil war-torn Libya or strategic crossroads of Turkey to attempt to reach the European shore in search of jobs and a new life.
Furthermore, the issue of our brothers and sisters struggling in the island state of the Maldives in recent years has remained outside the radar of those who can help bring changes in their fates. The Bangladeshi workers there, according to some returnees, are paid one-fourth of the wages received by nationals of a few other South Asian countries.
More alarmingly, they are exploited, enslaved, physically abused and jailed in cases, some stakeholders told an interactive session in Dhaka organised earliet this week by the Refugee Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), an organisation which works on rights of migrant workers.
The number of Bangladeshi workers in the Maldives is, unbelievably, about 150,000. More than 50,000 of them are said to be completely undocumented. Informal migration is to blame. The Maldives was further described as a dumping ground of aspiring Bangladeshi migrants. When recruiting agents allegedly fail to offer their clients overseas jobs elsewhere, they send them there.
The stakeholders including former diplomats, recruiters and rights activists at the RMMRU meeting observed that since the Bangladeshi workers are equivalent to one-fifth of the Maldivian population, a major section of locals are hostile to them.
Stigmatising Bangladeshi workers is common in some other destinations as well. Such an antagonism, the discussants argued, was never raised with the host nations.
Many of the workers reach the destinations with apparently valid documents which, however, do not contain work permits. That kind of situation involves the issue of monitoring and governance at the Bangladeshi exit points.
A detailed study on problems and prospects of overseas jobs was recommended in order to define the country's future courses of action and ensure safety, security and welfare of the expatriates.
Currently, some of the migrants including females are given trainings, yet on lower end jobs at shops, construction sites and households abroad but the majority are employed just as unskilled workers and with no assurance of minimum wages.
Bangladesh as a manpower exporting country is too modest to raise the rights issues of its nationals with the hosts. Four decades after joining the overseas job market and now having massive diasporas, Bangladesh needs to be diplomatically proactive to tackle the issues of its migrants for ensuring their rights and upholding dignity of the nation abroad. Bangladeshi missions must raise their standard of economic diplomacy in order to maximise national interests in the areas of remittances and trade globally.