THE suspension of international flights as part of the government’s Covid mitigation plan for a week from April 15, but now extended by another week till April 28, has left several thousand migrant workers, who are due to join work abroad on or before April 28, in difficulty. The government has arranged for special flights to five destination countries — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Singapore — but a chaotic situation is reported to have taken over the special flight arrangement. Many workers have, as New Age reported on Tuesday, struggled to get return tickets reissued for going back to workplace over the past few days. There has, moreover, been a sudden increase in air fare. Air fare to the Middle East countries, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Qatar, is reported to have increased by Tk 40,000–70,000. At the same time, the strict restrictions on public movement have made it difficult for many, staying in different parts of the country, to reach the capital. A number of workers say that they had to pay 10–50 times higher than the usual fare to reach Dhaka to catch return flights.
Most workers, after reaching the capital spending an exorbitant amount of money on fare, are kept in waiting for return tickets by the airlines, which are faced with a backlog of tickets issued and are now trying to serialise them. In such a situation, many are forced to live in hotels. About 20,000–25,000 migrant workers need, keeping to a Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies and the Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh estimate, to catch their return flights in the week beginning on April 14. The suspension of international flights for another week from April 22 will add to the backlog and the woes of the workers. Aggrieved workers, meanwhile, have continued demonstrations in front of the Biman Bangladesh Airlines office and Saudi Arabian Airlines office in the capital for the past four days. The government, which planned to arrange for about 100 special flights a week, has not been able to arrange the declared number of flights while migrant workers, some faced with the problem of the expiry of visa and valid work permit, have demanded more special flights. Besides, migrant workers are also reportedly faced with the problem of getting tested for Covid-19 on time, which is mandatory for all workers aspiring to go abroad.
The government must, therefore, attend to the issue earnestly and early. The government needs to arrange for more special flights to send the workers to destination countries. The government also needs to arrange for special transports for workers from across the country to the capital as the ongoing restrictions have made it difficult for them to reach Dhaka. The government must also facilitate Covid test for the workers.
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