SAFE migration is still an illusion for workers aspiring to overseas jobs. Majority of the workers still return home, abused, exploited and empty-handed. In the absence of an official, strict and ethical recruitment process, many workers are cheated by middlemen, brokers and non-compliant recruiting agencies. One of the ways they are deceived and economically exploited is being sent to Middle Eastern countries on ‘free visa,’ a visa category that does not exists in reality. Free visa is essentially a family or friend’s visa in which workers are allowed to travel without a guaranteed job in destination countries. Over the years, dishonest brokers and recruiting agencies have popularised this visa and apparently sold them to workers for high prices. As aggrieved workers say, Saudi ‘free visas’ were sold for up to Tk 10 lakh, Qatari visa for up to Tk 6 lakh while Omani and Kuwaiti visas for up to Tk 4 lakh. What is even more worrying is that the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training is aware of the situation as the said, on the record, over 70 per cent migrants from Bangladesh to Middle Eastern countries were sent on so-called ‘free visas.’ It has, however, done little to none to rectify the situation.
Migrant workers with such visas land on foreign shores with no jobs and end up being victims of the worst abuse and return home with nothing to rebuild their future on. A hapless victim who travelled to Oman on ‘free visa’, as New Age reported on Friday, sold his homestead to pay broker. In Muscat, he was taken to a shabby camp where he lived with 70 other Bangladeshis with no job. Shockingly, he went to Oman with a due clearance from the BMET. His distraught experience illustrates that the recruitment process on part of the government is not water-tight. It is likely, as migrant workers rights campaigners claim, that government officials are complicit. The government has not only failed the workers in the recruitment phase, but failed them in protection of their rights in destination countries. There are allegations that workers do not get immigration and other services. Many women migrant workers allege that labour wing officials of Bangladesh consulates are ineffective and unwilling to help. Media reports on the experience of economic exploitation and sexual violence prove that the government has yet to develop an effective strategy to eliminate profit-seeking agents and protect worker’s rights in destination countries.
Migrant workers, with their remittances, run the wheel of the national economy. The government must, therefore, develop a multi-pronged strategy to ensure safe migration which will eliminate profit-mongering, exploitative agents, establish effective labour wings in Bangladesh consulates to protect worker’s rights and hold diplomatic dialogues with destination countries so that the government there too takes punitive measures against abusive employers.
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