Around 400,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to the different government agencies.
The families of these jobless migrants are now at stake.
In the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, around 200,000 migrant workers came home on leave, but they could not return to their workplaces.
Despite completing all procedures, around 100,000 new workers could not go to their destination countries. Besides, around 100,000 more migrants returned home between April and August.
On average 2,000 migrant workers have been returning home everyday.
According to the Expatriates’ Welfare Desk at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, as many as 95,062 migrants returned home between 1 April and 30 August. Most of them returned from the Middle Eastern countries.
Sources said the number of returnees is increasing day by day. They have no jobs and no support from the government. Many of them are surviving on loan.
Officials at the expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry said, a majority of the returnees became undocumented. After suffering different jail terms, as many as 20,829 migrants returned from Saudi Arabia, 7,941 from Kuwait and 5,713 migrants from Oman.
As there was no work, about 8,500 migrants returned from Maldives, 7,769 migrants from Qatar and about 3,000 from Malaysia.
Simultaneously, migrants are returning from many countries including Singapore, UAE, Bahrain, Lebanon, South Africa, South Korea, Italy and Vietnam.
Returned migrants will have to be given cash support along with training. Steps have to be taken to generate skilled manpower. The demands of skilled workers will increase once the coronavirus infection is controlled in different countries.
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), overseas employment has decreased in 2019 and 2018 in comparison to the previous years.
The overseas employment remained completely shut between April and August in 2020.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), BRAC and Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) carried out surveys on the returned migrant workers.
The surveys have found a gloomy picture of those migrants' lives. The organisations have made recommendations to take quick measures and rehabilitate them.
Two expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry officials said a fund of Tk 2 billion (200 crore) has been created to rehabilitate the returnees.
The prime minister has declared another allocation of Tk 5 billion (500 crore). The loan disbursement will begin soon.
Another project of Tk 4.25 billion (425 crore) funded by the World Bank is under process. Under the project, the returnees will be trained up and will be given cash support.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, expat ministry secretary Ahmed Munirus Saleheen said, “We are working to send back the migrants who got stranded after coming home on leave.”
He also said that the government is taking steps to support the returned migrants and train them up.
Although the situation has improved in the destination countries, it is yet to improve in our country. If the improvement of the coronavirus situation is delayed, it would be difficult to reopen the labour market.
Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) secretary general Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury said the overseas labour market will not be normal unless the coronavirus situation is improved in the countries of origin and destination.
“Although the situation has improved in the destination countries, it is yet to improve in our country. If the improvement of the coronavirus situation is delayed, it would be difficult to reopen the labour market,” Shamim told Prothom Alo.
70pc of migrant workers in livelihood crisis
IOM carried out a survey on 1,486 returned migrants. Some 70 per cent of them said they are in a crisis of livelihoods. Some 75 migrants said they are interested to go abroad for jobs.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Ashrarful Islam, a resident of Munshiganj, said he came home on two months leave from Saudi Arabia two months ago.
“I don’t know when I will be able to go to Saudi Arabia. My deposit is finished. Six members of my family and I are passing hard times,” Ashraful lamented.
61pc of families did not receive remittance
Most of the families of migrant workers are unable to receive remittance although the foreign remittance has increased.
RMMRU carried out a survey on 200 returned migrants.
Revealing the findings on 27 July, RMMRU said the flow of remittance to 61 per cent of the families is completely suspended. 78 per cent of migrants were sent back after detaining them from the streets. Around 74 per cent of migrants could not come with their income.
Afzal Hossain, a resident of Bagerhat, returned from Malaysia on 17 August.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said he was a documented worker. Malaysian police detained him with undocumented workers. He returned home after serving for six months in jail.
“I could not recover my migration cost. I am in debt of Tk 200,000. I've no source of income and am unable to go home in fear of the creditors,” Afzal said.
87pc of returned migrants have no income
BRAC conducted a survey on 558 returned migrants, and of them 86 per cent returned in March.
87 per cent of these migrant workers have no source of income. Around 91 per cent of them did not get any assistance from the government and non-government organisation.
The migrant workers said they are under serious mental pressure.
Migrants becoming jobless in many countries
Around 4 million Bangladeshis work in the Middle Eastern countries. More Bangladeshis work in Malaysia, Singapore, Maldives and Italy. All these countries are hit hard by the novel coronavirus. As a result many are losing jobs.
There are different groups on Facebook. These are ‘We are Saudi Arabia expatriate Bangladeshis’, ‘Malaysia-expatriates Helpline’ and 'We are Maldives Expatriates'.
Bangladeshi migrants are uploading posts on these groups seeking jobs.
Italy-expatriate community leader Tuhin Mahmud said the unemployment is increasing in the restaurant, residential hotel and tourism and production sectors.
RMMRU chairperson Tasneem Siddiqui said returned migrants will have to be given cash support along with training.
She said steps have to be taken to generate skilled manpower. The demands of skilled workers will increase once the coronavirus infection is controlled in different countries, Tasneem suggested.
* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam