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The expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry can take special measures to vaccinate migrant workers on a priority basis.
RMMRU founding chair Tasneem Siddique

In 31 days of May, only 14,200 migrants went abroad on jobs, according to Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) which regulates the overseas employment under the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry.

BMET officials and recruiting agents said labour markets in UAE, Oman, Jordan and Singapore remain suspended.

The officials said an uncertainty has surfaced over the lone labour market of Saudi Arabia due to disruption of flight services. Several thousand migrants are unable to travel to the oil rich country.

Officials said the overseas labour migration decreased by 69 per cent due to the pandemic in 2020.

BMET statistics show the labour migration was suspended from April to September last year. Afterwards when labour migration resumed, it shot up in December. In last six months, 223,638 migrants have gone abroad for jobs and 70 per cent of these went to Saudi Arabia.

As the coronavirus infections begin to rise again in the country, the government imposed various restrictions from 5 April. Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) suspended all flights between 13 and 21 April. Several thousand migrants were stranded. However, special flights resumed on 17 April. But the visa processing at the embassy and BMET smartcard distribution remained suspended for several days. As a result, the overseas labour migration slowed down.

Meanwhile, the Saudi government set some conditions for the foreign workers on 20 May. It said a migrant has to stay in seven days quarantine if full dose of vaccines is not taken. Besides, the migrants have to undergo coronavirus tests while entering and leaving hotels. As a result a migrant has to spend an additional Tk 60,000 to 70,000.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, recruiting Agency Oikya Parishad president Tipu Sultan said all labour markets except Saudi Arabia are suspended. As the migration cost for Saudi Arabia has gone up, the migrants are not interested to go to the oil rich country.

Sources at the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry said they would provide subsidy of Tk 25,000 to each of Saudi-bound migrants. The ministry is also planning to vaccinate migrants on priority basis.

Saudi-bound migrant Ali Hossain said he has managed a visa of Saudi Arabia with the assistance of a certain brother. He said it is not possible for him to spend additional Tk 70,000 for quarantine purpose.

BMET director general Md Shahidul Alam said he would try to collect funds from the wage earners' welfare fund for the migrants.

Non-government research organisation Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit (RMMRU) founding chair Tasneem Siddique said the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry can take special measures to vaccinate migrant workers on a priority basis.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.

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