Thousands of Bangladeshi migrants jobless

Over 1.5 lakh workers stranded due to flight suspension

Md Owasim Uddin Bhuyan | Published: 00:39, Mar 19,2020


Labour migration from Bangladesh continued to get badly impacted by the spread of novel coronavirus rendering thousands of migrant workers jobless in Italy and Spain while many with job visas to the Middle Eastern countries remained stranded at home, said officials and recruiting agencies.

Overseas employment started shrinking due to fear of COVID-19 that has already spread to 160 countries forcing suspension of flights to the major destination countries, particularly in the Middle East, they said.

Bangladeshi migrants who were employed in service sectors in Italy, Spain and other European countries were out of work and were leading a miserable life due to lack of income, said some of the victims.

Furkan Uddin Khan, a Bangladeshi migrant in Madrid, told New Age that he along with thousands of  Bangladeshis and other nationalities was forced to stay home due to emergency imposed by the government in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

‘All kinds of businesses and activities are closed for the next two weeks except for pharmacy and food supply outlets,’ he informed.

About 7,000 Bangladeshi migrants were employed in the Turin city of Italy and they were all placed under quarantine at their homes.

Saimur Rashid Khan, a Bangladeshi professional completing a post-graduation in Turin, told New Age that Bangladeshi migrants were mostly engaged with irregular jobs and were facing financial crises due to lack of income.

Of them, the undocumented migrants were in the worst condition, he said.

According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, over 55,000 workers migrated to Italy with immigration clearance while there was almost equal number of Bangladeshi migrants in Italy working without legal immigration status.

At home, over 1.5 lakh workers were now stranded after all flights bound to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar remained suspended for two weeks, according to the estimate of the recruiting agencies.

Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies secretary general Shameem Ahmed

Chowdhury Noman told New Age on Wednesday that though there was no specific data, the figure would be about 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh migrant workers who had completed the process for overseas jobs and were now waiting to leave the country.

He said that COVID-19 gravely affected the Bangladesh’s new job markets, especially in the East European countries. 

Over 1.2 core Bangladeshis are working abroad with 80 per cent of them in the Middle Eastern countries, remitting more than $16 billion annually.

The prolonged suspension on labour migration and restrictions on their travels would drastically cut the flow of remittance, said migration experts.

Saudi Arabia, which recruits over 50,000 workers from Bangladesh each month, has already suspended all international flights for two weeks starting from Sunday as it stepped up measures to deal with the global spread of coronavirus.

Recruiting Agencies Okya Parisad president M Tipu Sultan said that the overseas migration from Bangladeshi has been gravely impacted due to suspension of the flights to Saudi Arabia, the largest destination for Bangladeshi workers. 

Tipu Sultan, also Rajdhani Trade International recruiting agency owner, told New Age that over one lakh workers preparing to go to work in Saudi Arabia were now stranded in Bangladesh.  Besides, there were thousands of workers bound to Qatar and Kuwait and they were also stranded due to travel restriction, he said.

As the outbreak of the novel virus worsens, global migrants’ rights activists called upon the governments of affected countries to bring migrant workers there under their services and supports.

In a statement, Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants said that the new viral disease exposed the growing vulnerability and insecurity of the migrant workers everywhere.

Film4Peace Foundation executive director Pervez Siddiqui, who is an Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants member in Bangladesh, told New Age that Bangladesh government should immediately extend protection services to Bangladesh workers in destination countries and make them aware about the new virus and ensure their access to the health services.

Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad has requested the governments of the Gulf Cooperation Councils countries to allow Bangladeshi migrant workers who were on leave but failed to return to their workplaces due to restrictions on flights.

Briefing ambassadors and representatives of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq, the EWOE minister requested the GCC envoys to allow the stranded workers to stay whose visas would be expired due to flights restrictions for coronavirus.

Malaysia-based migrant rights organisation North-South Initiative executive director Adrian Pereira said that migrants without documents risk get detained if they go to public places especially public hospitals.

In a message, he said that ‘they are not safe and would not take the risk of going to hospitals when they become ill.’

‘It is estimated that 2 Bangladeshis die each day in Malaysia and there is no move to ensure justice for them,’ he noted.

BRAC Migration Programme head Shariful Islam Hasan, who has just returned after travelling across Europe, told New Age that coronavirus phenomenon would leave negative impacts on labour migrations.

He suggested that the government should be in touch with the labour-recipient countries to recruit workers from Bangladesh after the situation improves.

On Sunday, EWOE Minister Imran Ahmad called on an emergency meeting with relevant ministries, international organisations, recruiting agencies and civil society leaders on emergency initiatives for Bangladeshi migrant workers.

The minister requested the field-level NGOs and Bangladesh Associations of International Recruiting Agencies to create awareness among the migrants and returnees about the new virus.

The Bangladeshi migrants who were in the destination countries were asked to stay at their host countries for the next three months. They were also requested to be in touch with the Bangladesh missions in the destination countries.

Those who prepared for migrating to GCC countries have been asked not to get panicked as the government requested them to allow the workers after the coronavirus pandemic subsided.

EWOE ministry additional secretary Ahmed Munirus Saleheen has been appointed as focal person of a coordination committee to expedite the activities taken by the concerned ministries and other stakeholders about the novel coronavirus. The leaders of the committee will convene every week to review the activities, said the EWOE minister.

Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme chairman Shakirul Islam who attended the emergency meeting urged the government’s labour wings at Bangladesh missions abroad to provide a daily briefing about the updated situation on coronavirus at the host countries.

The on-going pandemic of COVID-19 causes a severe respiratory syndrome. First emerging in Hubei, China in mid-November 2019, the global outbreak was characterised as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on March 11, 2020.

As of 18 March 2020, more than 203,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in over 160 countries and territories, with major outbreaks in mainland China, Europe, Iran, and South Korea.

More than 8,200 people have died and over 82,000 have recovered. On 13 March, the WHO announced that Europe has become the new epicenter of the pandemic.

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