Death of migrant workers abroad must be investigated

Published: 00:00, Feb 25,2021


THE untimely death of migrant workers abroad has been a public concern and it continues to remain so as a recent international media report claims that about 1,018 Bangladeshi workers died in Qatar in the past decade. The report that the Guardian published on Tuesday says that more than 6,500 workers from South Asia died while working in Qatar and 69 per cent of the death are categorised without any post-mortem examination as ‘natural’ or ‘not work related’. Authorities in Qatar do not dispute the number of death but try to justify the death saying that the mortality rate among migrant workers is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the migrant labour force. Migration experts, however, reject the Qatar government’s claim and urge the Bangladesh government to initiate a process of systematic post-mortem examinations to establish the reason for the death.

At least 33,112 Bangladeshi migrant workers died abroad in 2005–2017, according to the Wage Earners’ Welfare Board. In majority of the cases, the death is categorised as ‘natural’ among other causes that are often classified as acute heart diseases, respiratory failures, road accidents, suicide and workplace accidents. Four-hundred and seventy-three women have returned home dead from the Middle East in four years since 2016. At least 81 of them are said to have committed suicide. Such classifications, usually made without post-mortem examinations, often fail to provide a legitimate medical explanation for the underlying cause of death. Researchers at the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit say that the attempt on part of employers or authorities in destination countries to quickly categorise the death as ‘not work related’ or ‘natural’ closes the possibility for families of deceased workers to claim compensation and allows the employers to avoid taking the responsibility for the repatriation of bodies or facing legal consequence of any rights violation. The large majority of the workers are young and while some death could be attributed to heat stroke considering the Middle Eastern climate, many migrants who returned have talked about strenuous, exploitative working conditions as the hidden causes of such untimely death. The labour wings in Bangladesh’s missions abroad have an active role to play here. As they generally hold little regard for worker rights, the repatriation of the body remains a struggle for the family, let alone demanding a post-mortem examination or making compensation claims.

The government must, therefore, initiate a process of post-mortem examinations of repatriated deceased workers and identify the reason for the death. In cases of workplace death, it must initiate diplomatic dialogues with destination countries to bring negligent employers to justice and ensure compensation. What is at stake here is not only migrant worker rights about compensation and burial. It is also the high number of death of migrant workers that the government should immediately talk about with international bodies including Colombo Process, Bali Process and Abu Dhabi Dialogue.

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