The government launched special flights to five countries from 17 April for expatriate workers to return to their workplaces. Over the past 15 days, at least 65,000 workers have gone abroad on special flights. The main destination of these flights was the Middle East. Employment opportunities have apparently been created for the Bangladeshi workers as the recruitment of Indian workers has been halted in the Middle East.
Senior officials of the foreign ministry told Prothom Alo on Sunday that it was a tough challenge for expatriate workers to secure jobs during the first phase of coronavirus last year. There had been pressure to bring back workers from abroad. And most of those who back to the country did not return.
Last year, the coronavirus situation was handled efficiently by the government and no country imposed restrictions on the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers or flights, the officials said. Given the circumstances, Bangladesh has succeeded in sending more workers abroad. Even the number of returnees or flights is much lower than that of workers going ovrseas.
According to the ministry of foreign affairs, 64,883 people have flown to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Singapore since the launch of the special flight on 1 May. At the same time, some 16,707 people have returned to the country from those seven countries. As many as 25,501 workers went to the UAE, 21,943 to Saudi Arabia and 10,498 to Qatar.
According to the Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia, the demand for Bangladeshi workers has suddenly increased due to the halt in the recruitment of Indian workers for over a month. The Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia has approved 3,000 new workers per day on average.
During a visit to Dhaka last month, Bangladesh’s ambassador to Riyadh, Mohammad Javed Patwary, emphasised the need to take advantage of the new opportunities of recruitment.
When asked about launching special flights for Bangladeshi workers, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen told Prothom Alo, “In this current pandemic situation, any country can close its borders to Bangladesh. So, as long as the flights for Bangladeshis are on, we will continue to send workers overseas.”
Masud Bin Momen said that the situation was just the opposite at this time last year. Several countries wanted to send back Bangladeshi workers. However, Bangladesh did not accept this.
Momen further said, “Bangladesh is in a somewhat advantageous position this time. The demand for Bangladeshi workers has also skyrocketed in the Middle East. These people could not go if the flights were closed. Therefore, we have created an opportunity to run special flights.”
Speaking to the diplomats in the Middle East , it was revealed that the volume of Bangladeshi recruitment in the last 15 days is noteworthy. One of the major reasons for this is the closure of recruitment of Indian workers. Apart from this, there are at least three factors which have played a role in creating the scope for the Bangladeshi workers.
First, job opportunities of the workers have increased due to the departure of the previous workers in the wake of the pandemic. Secondly, the wage of Bangladeshi workers is low as compared to that of workers from other countries and so the employers are more interested in recruiting Bangladeshi workers. Thirdly, Bangladeshi workers are willing to do all sorts of work which the workers from other countries usually refuse to do.
From mid-April last year, special arrangements were made to bring back the people of Bangladesh. Since then, more than 100,000 (1 lakh) Bangladeshis returned to the country till February. Most of them came back from the Middle East.
The government of Bangladesh closed all the international flights temporarily from 14 April in the wake of the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. Biman Bangladesh Airlines launched special flights to eight cities in five countries for the expatriate workers on 17 April.
Those special flights are carrying workers to Riyadh, Jeddah and Damman in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, Muscat in Oman, Doha in Qatar and to Singapore. Bangladeshi workers with expired visas and job contracts from those cities came back to the country by return flights. Later, many local and foreign airlines started to carry workers overseas along with Biman Bangladesh Airlines.
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashish Basu