In the current reality, for many people migrating abroad as workers is a 'right' decision. There are many reasons for this. Major development programmes of the government to improve the agricultural sector could not benefit the farmers at the grass roots as a workable marketing mechanism does not exist in Bangladesh. The farmers' toil gets ripped off, for the most part, by the middlemen. Further, the price hike of agro-centric products and the scarcity of agro-labour at the village level is making agri-business less profitable. So for the many agriculture based families, migration is the only way out. On the other hand, the number of small businesses continues to remain low both in the cities and villages.
The integral relation between labour migration and economic development is gaining increasing importance. But the question is-- how much of the benefits are we able to reap? Based on current research and government policies, we see that the benefits of the labour migration is mainly calculated in terms of remittances. But migration is not confined within remittance only. Closely intertwined with it is the development of family and society-- in other words, the whole country. The recent economic development of Bangladesh cannot be explained without taking into account the impact labour migration-- both directly and indirectly. Analysis of the impact of remittance on migrants families shows that they have changed a lot socially, economically and progressed in terms of education.
Most of the migrant workers have their own stories, some terrible. Kashem (pseudo name) went to Saudi Arabia in 2003. He was told that he would be working at a shop; but was appointed at a plant in the desert upon arrival. Habib (pseudo name) went in 2008; he had to work for 17 hours instead of 8 and did not receive proper overtime. Shawpan (pseudo name) went there in 2012 in hope of working at a hotel, but he ended up as a gardener.
The process of recruiting migrant workers from Bangladesh is very complex. Because government recruitment is low, most people rely on personal contacts when seeking to migrate. Without social connections finding a good opportunity to migrate is hard. Thus the recruiting agencies and the middlemen have a predominant presence in the sector. Maximum recruiting agencies are located in Dhaka, so it's hard for the people from village to collect information thoroughly. The aspiring migrants fall victim to the caprices of middlemen easily. Although the recruiting agency deny it, the amount of money paid by the migrants to the middleman are much higher than the officially set amount. Paying this unfair high amount of money brings many risks for the aspiring migrants and their families. Because they have paid a huge sum, the migrants feel mental and physical pressure to earn that money quickly. In order to find a quick return, many migrants get involved in many kinds of irregular and potentially criminal activities. This is harmful for the migrant workers, their families and ultimately the state.
The government knows about these problems. Some of the steps it has taken to ensure contract-based labour migration is praiseworthy. But the aim of most of these steps is to ensure that more people migrate so that the country can continue earning high remittances. Because we are very focused on the number, little has been done to improve the quality of our manpower export. In the competitive world, if labour migration is to continue, we need to make sure that the skills of our workers go up as well. Especially, our workers should be trained on how to use advanced technology. For that the quality of training that our workers receive has to go up.
Bangladesh has been exporting manpower since 1976 but we do not have any concrete policy or diplomacy for ensuring their welfare. Moreover, we need to make a transparent and realistic system of recruitment. There is no alternative to regulating the recruiting agencies in order to keep the influence of middlemen in check.
The writer is a field researcher on behalf of Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS), University of Dhaka.