Thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers are passing days in deep crisis abroad as they are facing forced repatriation, loss of jobs, limited access to foods and healthcare system amid the coronavirus pandemic across the globe.
Migrant rights activists said that Bangladesh government was yet to take pragmatic steps to help the country’s millions of migrant workers staying in distress at destination countries.
They said that though about 2 crore Bangladeshi migrants, with documented and undocumented status, were passing their days in severe crisis of food abroad but the government allocated Tk 8 crore as humanitarian support which was very little amount for them.
According to estimates of government officials, recruiting agencies and migration experts, already several lakh of Bangladeshi migrants became jobless in Middle East, Europe and East Asian countries due to the spread of COVID-19.
Recruiting agents leader Tipu Sultan told New Age that labour migration was passing through a grave crisis for the corona virus pandemic and the country’s recruiting agencies have already incurred losses of over Tk 5,000 crore .
‘In the last three months, job visas of over 1.5 lakh workers ,who were ready to fly, have been cancelled and their migration became uncertain due to persistent lockdown and economic recession in the destination countries,’ he said. .
Tipu Sultan, also president of Recruiting Agency Okyya Porisad, said that one lakh workers already came back home losing their jobs and more five lakh workers might be forced to return home soon.
About 8,000 Bangladeshi undocumented migrants, who got stranded in Kuwait for deportation under a general amnesty, were passing their days in miserable conditions with inadequate foods.
Since April 11, those Bangladeshis have been kept in different temporary labour camps in Manggab, Chebdi and Abdali areas in Kuwait city which were shabby, unhealthy and vulnerable to get them exposed to the COVID-19, said the victim migrants.
Raihan Shekh, one of the victims stranded in make-shift camp in Manggab in Kuwait City told New Age that they were over 600 Bangladeshis passing miserable days after taking out-passes under the general amnesty.
‘We are being provided with inadequate foods in such enclosed situation and we are not allowed to bring food from outside,’ he said, adding that shortage of food and unhealthy living condition with only two toilets for them made many of the workers sick in the camps.
‘On Wednesday, one Bangladeshi worker in this camp tested COVID-19 positive and was sent to a hospital. Another five workers are kept isolated in the camp,’ he said.
In Saudi Arabia, about half of 15 lakh undocumented Bangladeshi workers became jobless due to pandemic of COVID-19 and they were mostly living in Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah, Khamis, Taif and Tabuk regions.
Those Bangladeshis, staying in the country on so called free visa, were suffering from crisis of food or cash, said officials and activists.
Dhaka University professor of political science and RMMRU founding chair Tasneem Siddiqui said that Bangladeshi migrant workers who migrated to Middle Eastern countries with so called free visas are hit hard by losing their jobs due to lockdown imposed to stop spread of coronavirus.
Many migrants would be forced to return home in this changed situation, she said, suggesting that the government should create a special fund from its revenue to support the migrant workers.
On Monday, Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants, a network of 16 migrant rights organisation, submitted a memorandum to the United Nations secretary general highlighting the plight of the Bangladeshi migrants amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The BCSM co-chair Syed Saiful Haque told New Age that they emailed the memorandum to the UN headquarters in New York and other relevant departments and requested the secretary general to ask to the destination countries to refrain from sending back Bangladeshi migrant workers.
‘We are concerned that some destination countries are putting pressure on the countries of origin to take back the latter’s nationals who have been deemed to be in irregular status and those in detention and/or in prison,’ he said.
Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme chairman Shakirul Islam urged the government to announce a financial assistance programme for the families of migrant workers and returnees hard hit by the COVID-19 situation.
About 40 per cent of migrant workers are now living in hardship, after the current lockdown was imposed in many countries led them to either lose their jobs or not having been paid their regular salaries, he said.
‘But the families are not eligible for inclusion in the ration card list of 50 lakh people announced by the prime minister since they do not fall into the category of people.’
Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment ministry’s additional secretary Ahmed Munirus Saleheen told New Age that they government had taken various steps to face the negative impact of coronavirus on the overseas labour market. The ministry was trying to estimate approximate number of migrant victims who could come back home due to COVID-19, he said.
For affected retuned migrants, the EWOE ministry has readied a fund of Tk 200 crore, he said, adding that they had allocated over Tk 8 crore for humanitarians supports including foods and financial grants being provided through Bangladesh missions abroad.
The government has decided to bring back Bangladeshis who were in distress in some countries, including Kuwait, he said.
On return home, the migrants could get loans on soft conditions to help them rehabilitate in the society, he said.
According to BMET data, over 1.2 crore workers have migrated to 170 countries and they send remittances of $ 16 billion annually. Over 80 per cent of migrants were employed in the Middle East and East Asian countries, said officials.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Country