Migrants abused abroad, denied justice

Rashad Ahamad | Published: 23:38, Apr 30,2021


Bangladeshi migrant workers, especially female migrants in the Middle Eastern countries, are not getting justice after their employers have abused them physically, and in many cases, sexually as there is little intervention by governments to check such crimes, rights activists, victims and their families complained.

Migrant rights activists said that a large number of female migrants who mainly worked as domestic help came back home before their tenure of the contract ended with various injury marks on their bodies.

They were abused but they did not get justice, said the activists.

Among the returnees who were abused, some found with broken hands, legs, teeth and victim of sexual abuse in the Gulf countries.

Rights campaigners said that incidents were only increasing as neither the Bangladeshi authorities nor the governments of the destination countries took actions and even the authorities did not keep a record of the abuses.

In April, Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme, a non-government organization, published a report on 262 returnee female migrant workers.

Of them, 65 per cent were found sexually exploited, 60 per cent physically tortured, 50 per cent were subjected to forced labour, 37 per cent formed to work unpaid in employers relatives’ house, 33 per cent mentally exploited and  16 per cent were sexually abused.

Shariful Hasan, migration programme head of BRAC, said that, in the past four years, Bangladesh received 500 bodies and 12,000-15,000 female migrants abused in the destination counties.

‘Out of 500 at least 100 committed suicide, mostly after being abused,’ he said, adding that they were buried without post mortem examination.

Rights activists said that annually several thousand female migrants are abused in the destination countries, but none of them got justice except one woman.

The woman named Abiron Begum Ansar died in the hands of the family members who employed her.

In February 2021, a court in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia handed down the death penalty to a Saudi woman and gave different sentences to her husband and son in the case over the murder of Abiron, who went to Saudi Arabia in 2017, was tortured at her employers’ house and was killed on March 24, 2019.

Victims complained that they were kept captive like slaves, starved and tortured in different ways.

Some gave a vivid description of how they got hurt as their employers hit their heads against walls, used hot iron rods to sear their body parts and even poured boiled water on them.

‘I was not given food, they did not allow me to take rest and my wage remained unpaid,’ said Jobeda Begum, one of the returnee migrants who came back home from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

40-year-old Jobeda, who hailed from Manikganj, told New Age that her two months’ wage was not paid and she had to pay airfare to return home which cost her Tk 40,000.

Jobeda said that she was forced to work 18-20 hours for the eight-member family but she was not given enough food.

‘The male employer had a bad habit (a reference to sexual coercion) while his youngest daughter physically tortured me,’ said Jobeda who could not refund the money she had to pay for migration, which was Tk 70,000.

Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training director general Shamsul Alam said that the victims did not get justice as they did not come to file complaints and even during an investigation they do not cooperate so that the cases can be established.

‘Without cooperation from all, only the government cannot ensure justice,’ he said.

Rights campaigners said that a victim cannot stay in the destination country for justice after one has lost the job when her accommodation and meals are not secured.

They said that Bangladesh embassies were not playing their role in ensuring justice for the migrants while the authority of the destination country was unwilling to ensure it and even their basic human rights is regularly infringed.

Returnee female migrants alleged that they were abused in most of the cases without any reason while some for talking over the phone, sleeping, even for taking food, accidentally breaking utensils and many other flimsy grounds.

New Age in March and April talked to 35 returnee female migrants aged between 25 and 55 who were abused in the destination countries but did not seek any legal remedy.

The migrants living in Manikganj and Faridpur said that they had no scope to file a complaint as they almost escaped death in the Gulf countries as employers and embassies treat them as ‘enemies’.

After investigating the 111 cases of returning female workers in 2019, the Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment ministry found that 35 per cent of them were victims of sexual and physical abuse, while 43 per cent received irregular wages.

The report identified 11 fundamental reasons why Bangladeshi female migrants fled their workplaces, including physical and sexual abuse, inadequate food, no leave, and irregular salaries.

Though the government was aware of unrelenting violations by employers, it was doing nothing to establish justice for migrant victims, said rights activists.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, a rights organization that works for migrants’ rights globally in its latest report said that during the Covid pandemic, cases of abuse increased three-fold in the Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

47,991 migrant workers in the Gulf states were subjected to abuse since the emergence of the Covid-19 as they had reached their destinations over a year ago, a figure which is just the tip of the iceberg, said the report prepared between March 2010 and February 2021.

Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit’s founding chairperson Tasneem Siddiqui, who has been working for migrants for decades, said that human rights and labour rights concepts have not yet been established in the Middle Eastern countries.

Tasneem, a professor of Dhaka University, said that unless the employers’ mentality changed and multinational pressure groups exerted pressure on the governments of these countries to ensure human rights for the workers, the situation would never improve, she said.

Bangladesh Nari Sramik Kendra recently noted case histories of 28 returnee female migrants at Manikganj, and found that 25 of them were tortured and 24 were tortured by the female members of the families they worked for.

BNSK executive director Sumaya Islam said that none had paid any attention to the fact that their treatment amounted to serious violations of rights as the victims were an underprivileged group of people.

She suggested that the government should ensure strong monitoring over the workers and take prompt actions once a worker has fallen victim to such abuse.

Bangladesh is one of the top labour-sending countries and it has sent 13.2 million migrants including 935, 499 female between 1991 and February 2021 officially, according to BMET statistics.

Experts feel that the real number is much higher.

OKUP chairman Shakirul Islam said that after analysing cases of 262 migrants, they found a serious problem in the recruitment processes of female migrants which create the ground for all kinds of mistreatment.

‘Stop unofficial migration to make it safer,’ he said.

Migration experts said that the recruitment processes are also very faulty as Bangladesh was sending female migrants without ensuring their safety and based on only MoU instead of a bilateral agreement with the destination country.

They said that workers should allow using mobile phones, keeping passport, visa and other documents in their own custody, besides having access to emergency phone numbers so that they could communicate the abuse that might take place at workplaces. 

Wage Earners Welfare Board of the expatriates’ ministry record showed that at least 4.5 lakh migrants including 25,000 women migrants have come back to Bangladesh amid the ongoing pandemic.

A significant number of them came back after they have remained unpaid, unfed and endured abuses for months on end.

Bangladesh has 99 per cent female migrants in eight Middle Eastern countries, including the highest 39.59 per cent in Saudi Arabia.

Returnee migrants said that they were also acutely facing a reintegration problem that was much more social than financial as they were forced to return after being abused in the destination countries.

‘Neighbours, relatives misbehave and make hostile comments which are intolerable,’ said returnee migrant Nur Jahan.

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