Nearly 70 per cent of the migrant workers, who returned home in the first half of the current year, remained unemployed as livelihood opportunities have shrunk in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic response measures, International Organisation for Migration said on Wednesday.
They are also faced with financial difficulties due to lack of income, accumulation of debt and health-related issues.
Unplanned, large-scale returns of unemployed migrant workers also affected remittance-dependent communities across the country where each migrant worker supports three members of their household on an average.
The IOM said this in a press release with reference to a recent study conducted on a total of 2,765 returnee migrants, including 1,486 international return migrants and 1,279 internal return migrants in 12 high migration-prone districts — Brahamanbaria, Chattogram, Chuadanga, Cox’s Bazar, Cumilla, Dhaka, Jessore, Kurigram, Narsingdi, Satkhira, Sylhet and Tangail.
The survey was conducted in May and July 2020 in the districts, seven of which share a border with India.
Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, and since March 2020, hundreds of thousands of international migrant workers were compelled to return to their home districts in Bangladesh due to limited access to income-generating activities, social services, healthcare systems and social support networks in the countries in which they were working prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Eighty-two per cent of the respondents returned to Bangladesh from abroad one to three months ago, in alignment with the timeline of the emergence of COVID-19 and the implementation of response measures.
Twenty nine per cent of the respondents reported that they were told to leave their host country, while 23 per cent reported that they were worried about COVID-19.
Family was also an important factor in the decision-making process before their return to Bangladesh as 26 per cent of the respondents mentioned that their family wanted them to come back home.
The respondents who owed debt to family and friends comprise 55 per cent and to micro-finance institutions, self-help groups and NGOs, 44 per cent, and to moneylenders, 15 per cent.
In total, 86 per cent of debt owed to family and friends was charged at zero interest, while over 65 per cent of debt owed to MFIs, NGOs and private banks carried an interest rate of between 10 to 15 per cent, and on 62 per cent of debt owed to money lenders, the interest charged was between 50 to 150 per cent.
Nearly half of respondents had migrated from Bangladesh during or before 2017 (47 per cent), with 41 per cent having gone abroad via the government channels.
Those who did not go abroad through government channels paid 1.7 times the amount for migration as those who did.
Among the internal migrant workers in the country, almost all respondents (97 per cent) returned to their home districts between two weeks and three months ago, citing decisions by their employer (53 per cent), personal worries (35 per cent) and family concerns (26 per cent) related to COVID-19 as primary reasons for returning.
IOM chief of mission in Bangladesh Giorgi Gigauri pointed out that there was an urgent need for setting a comprehensive mechanism to reintegrate the returnee migrants into their respective communities.
The findings were presented in a report titled ‘Rapid assessment of needs and vulnerabilities of internal and international return migrants in Bangladesh,’ in coordination with the Bangladesh government, according to the IOM.
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