Women migrants from Bangladesh need skills, returnees need support

Md Owasim Uddin Bhuyan | Published: 00:31, Mar 06,2020 | Updated: 21:50, Mar 06,2020


Returnees from the Middle East got united and started Dhrubatara Catering Service at Dakshinkhan in Dhaka with the financial support from BRAC. This picture shows six of the eight entrepreneurs. — Sourav Lasker

Imparting proper education and skill training to the country’s women migrant workers before sending them abroad can ensure safe migration and better remittance, according to migration experts.

Sending educated and skilled women workers abroad may not translate into panacea for all problems but it would certainly improve the situation exceedingly.

Especially, it will lend our workforce the strength needed in the backdrop of the hundreds of the women migrants returning home from the Middle Eastern countries after falling victims to abuse, tortures and exploitation, they said.

On return, the women migrants are frequently facing serious problems of social integration as family members of some returnees decline to receive the female migrants.

Proper training on language, trade, rules and regulations as well as on working atmosphere could protect the women migrants from getting abused in the destination countries and enable them to contribute to the national economy.

Bangladesh Nari Sramik Kendra executive director Sumaiya Islam told New Age that education level of women migrants should be upgraded and their training should be made to match the international standard in quality to ensure safe migration.

She also said that women workers must have access to modern technologies and support system to turn them into skilled workers.

Sumiya, also migrant rights activist, said that steps should be taken to enhance dignity of women workers at home and abroad.

According to Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, women migrants from Bangladesh, who are dominantly employed as domestic workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, frequently fall victim at the hands of their employers.

As the largest destination, the KSA recruited over 3.45 lakh women migrants out of total nine lakh women migrated overseas since 1991, BMET data show.

The vulnerability to exploitations, physical and sexual abuses has now become the core issue that remains unaddressed while experts worry that Bangladesh should look elsewhere for better employment opportunities.

Activists and officials admitted that women migrants, who were sexually abused by their employers in Saudi Arabia were frequently abandoned by their families after returning home.

The women migrant worker returned home from Saudi Arabia facing abuses and exploitations and they were all refused by families. One of them was pregnant and gave birth to a girl on return last year.

According to BRAC migration programme, at least 315 women migrant were sent back home from Saudi Arabia in January and February of this year and over 1,500 women migrants returned in 2019.

A recent study revealed that a vast majority of returnee migrant workers, including women workers,  fail to utilise their skills for earning livelihood in the country due to lack of proper support mechanisms to use their work experience.

The study on ‘Economic Reintegration of Bangladeshi Returnee Migrant Workers: Prospects and Challenges’, conducted by Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme, said that migrant workers were yet to get better jobs based on their past experience as the government has not yet taken effective measures for skill certification of returnee workers.

The OKUP study conducted on 250 returnee migrant workers in five upazilas of the country’s five districts during the period between November and December in 2019, showed that about 90 per cent of the workers who came back home could not use their skills for income generating activities.

About 46 per cent of respondents said they could return home with skills, but the rest said they could not acquire skills.

About 42 per cent of respondents said they were unemployed while 22 per cent were engaged in small businesses such as grocery shops and poultry farms, 4 per cent remained engaged with jobs.

The remaining 32 per cent returned to their old professions such as labourers in the construction and agriculture sectors.

The findings of the study showed that 23 per cent of the returnee migrants could earn enough money, but 77 per cent could not.

Nearly 35 per cent of the respondents said they have savings or small business. Some 29 per cent said they spent money on building or repairing houses while 7 per cent used money for marriage and rest 29 per cent for different purposes like migration of family members, marriage of siblings and children, it said.

OKUP chairman Shakirul Islam told New Age that Bangladeshi women migrants employed as domestic workers abroad could earn little due to lack of their skills.

Those domestic workers were frequently returning home as victims of abuse and many of them were being refused by their husbands, he said.

He further added that the returnee women migrants need government supports for reintegration to ensure sustainable impact of the overseas employment on the country’s overall economy.

Shakirul Islam said that a special body should be setup to provide all necessary cooperation to returnee migrant workers in using their skills and remittances. It will also help ensure economic development of the workers as well as the country.

According to migration experts, women migrants who were returning home could build themselves as entrepreneurs in the food industry if they were entitled to get reintegration loans and necessary support.

At least seven women migrants who were sexually abused by their employers in Saudi Arabia, and were later abandoned by families after returning home, have finally turned their lives around and could go beyond their misfortunes.

They got united and started catering services in Dhaka and in three months they became self-reliant ushering in hope for other returnees, said officials.

Zabeda Begum, Mosammat Banu, Asma Akter, Shahnaj begum, Masuda Akter, Runa Laila and Dalia Akter returned home in 2019 from Saudi Arabia facing abuses and exploitations there. As the female migrants were sexually abused by their employers, their husbands and the families refused to receive them.

Shariful Hasan, head of BRAC migration programme told New Age that on return, these migrants were provided constant counselling for survival and reintegration.

‘At one stage they informed that they would do better in catering services, he said.

One of them was good in management and after consulting her, BRAC provided each of the victims with Tk 65,000 as grant and making Tk 3.90 lakh as capital for the six women to start a joint business called ‘Dhrubatara Catering Service,’ he added. Another one joined the six later, he said.

In October, 2019, the women rented a house in Dakkin Khan of the capital where they prepared foods and supplied those to different offices and markets in Banani, Khilkhet, Uttara and airport areas.

Dalia Akter, who works as manager of Dhrubatara Catering Services, said that she used to take order and ensure supplies to the customers.

She told New Age that she had returned home on August 26, 2019 after sustaining tortures of the employer. She jumped off the second floor of the employer’s home to escape abuse but her legs were broken, she said.

On return, her husband refused to receive her, said Dalia who had to return within 14 months of her migration.

Dalia, 22, said that she joined the team of the returnees and began a new life with them.

She said that in December they had a net profit of Tk 45,000 after deducting all costs and shared the amount among themselves.

Dalia said that they supply about 150 lunch packets and 100 dinners daily among customers in Banani, Khilkhet, Uttara and airport areas. The price of each meals range between Tk 100 and Tk 120, she informed.

Dalia dreams of expanding their business in the coming days and giving message to other returnees to change their fortunes by following in their footsteps.

A significant number of Bangladeshi women migrants have returned home facing abuse, tortures and other forms of exploitation particularly in the KSA and the trend of returnees who have been abused and exploited still continue, according to the government officials.

Migration experts suggested ensuring ‘regular and well-managed female labour migration without putting any restrictions on their mobility.’

They suggested that the Bangladesh government should explore alternative opportunities for women migrant workers in the East Asian countries including Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, which are comparatively safer destinations.

On February 25-26, a group of parliamentarians from Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka took part in a dialogue in Dhaka jointly organised by the Parliamentarians Caucus on Migration and Development of the Jatiya Sangsad, WARBE Development Foundation and Migrant Forum in Asia.

They called for the ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on Domestic Workers to protect the rights of the domestic workers at home and abroad.

The migration caucus chairman Israfil Alam MP, who read out the statement, said that the convention, which is the 189th ILO convention that set the minimum standard of decent domestic work, must be ratified to end abuse, exploitation and violence against the workers.

‘Domestic workers are neither servants nor second-class workers and they are also entitled to decent work like other workers, he said.

The ILO estimates that 164 million people are migrant workers and 98 per cent among them are men and 68 million are women.

The migrant domestic workers represent 7.7 per cent of global migrant workers and around 8.5 million or 73.4 per cent of all migrant domestic workers are women worldwide.

In Asia, domestic workers work is a significant sector of employment with estimate of 21 million in Asia and another 2 million in the Middle East.

In Bangladesh, 1.3 million are in household work and among them 80 per cent are female and most of them are children and young in age.

Asia hosts the biggest number of domestic workers but only one country in the region had ratified the ILO convention.

According to a government report revealed in 2019, about 35 per cent of returned female migrants have faced abuse in many forms, including slave-like working conditions.

Investigating the 111 cases of returning female workers in August, the government found that 35 percent of them were victims of sexual and physical abuse while 43 per cent received irregular wages.

The report identified 11 fundamental reasons why Bangladeshi migrant women fled their workplaces, including physical and sexual abuse, inadequate food, work without leave, and irregular salaries.

The report was submitted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment ministry on September 26 last year.

According to the Human Rights Watch Report 2019, domestic workers, predominantly women, faced a range of abuses including overwork, forced confinement, non-payment of wages, food deprivation, and psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, while the authorities have failed to hold their employers accountable for such crimes.

Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment ministry has undertaken various steps to reduce vulnerabilities of the women migrants.

The EWOE ministry officials told New Age that they were taking up the issues of women migrants to the joint working group meetings held between two countries.

They said that the Bangladesh government considers the overseas migration as an integral component of the county’s development aspiration.

EWOE minister Imran Ahmad told New Age that Bangladesh considered overseas migration as driving force of development.

For this reason, the government has strongly emphasises the promotion of the migration of the skilled workers to benefit the migrant workers, he said.

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email