THE recent increase in the number of deaths of Bangladeshi migrant workers is alarming. In 2018, the Wage Earners’ Welfare Board brought home bodies of 3,793 migrant workers, up from 3,387 the previous year. As New Age reported on Saturday, 1,113 workers were brought dead from Saudi Arabia alone. As the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation says, some died for lack of workplace safety. But a significant number of them died of stroke and heart attack. Most of the dead were aged between 25 and 35 years. It is unnatural for such a high number of people to die of stroke and heart attack, which do not generally happen overnight, at the age. Moreover, all migrant workers undergo medical tests as part of checking their fitness for the jobs they have been selected for before leaving home.
The assumption of rights groups that the workers may have died abroad because of excessive physical and mental stress they usually suffer for various reasons such low wage, heavy debt burden and unfriendly workplace atmosphere cannot be ruled out. Most Bangladeshi workers seeking overseas jobs are poor and unskilled, because of which they usually get low-paid jobs in destination countries. They generally have to pay high for the migration for reasons including the tendency of recruiting agencies to make quick money while the cost is mostly collected through either selling homesteads or borrowing at high interest rate. Overall, the poor workers have to find ways to recover the migration cost as early as possible falling victim to gratuitous physical and mental pressure. Meanwhile, the government is yet to commence with a mechanism to hold post-mortem examinations before burying the deceased migrants despite repeated demands from rights groups. If such a mechanism had been there, the causes of deaths of migrant workers could have been identified, which would also help the government to take measures to address the reasons for the untimely death of such a large number of people every year.
There are reasons to believe that all this is a manifestation of the general apathy of successive governments to migrant worker woes. In any case, the government is constitutionally bound to take care of all citizens, including those working abroad. It needs to realise that there were many among the deceased in question who were the lone bread-earners of the families. What all concerned need to ponder over is that if the situation is allowed to prevail for long, it may discourage people from going on jobs abroad leaving an adverse impact, particularly on the annual remittance inflow that the country badly needs.
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