Migrant workers restart from zero

Kamaluddin, returning from Qatar, is now running a grocery shop
Prothom Alo

More than 450,000 migrant workers have returned home empty-handed due to the coronavirus pandemic. A large portion of them are spending a hard without any income. A few of them, though, have started life afresh, availing public and private loans. They are earning from fisheries, livestock farming, grocery and fruit shops and running ride-sharing businesses with their motorbikes.

Prothom Alo contacted returnee migrant workers from data provided by the Probashi Kallyan Bank and non-government organisations. During discussions with them, they expressed this spark of hope about restarting their careers.

The expatriates say that they were forced to return to the country after losing their jobs due to the pandemic. Some of them came on vacation, but could not return to their workplaces. All of a sudden darkness descended on their lives. The loans from the Probashi Kallyan Bank are giving them hope of a new life. Some of them got the back from BRAC to restart.

Kamaluddin has opened a grocery shop in Ranihati Bazar of Shibganj upazila in Chapainawabganj district. He was forced to return from Qatar after losing his job due to the pandemic situation. He has started a new life after getting a loan of Tk 200,000 from the Probashi Kallyan Bank in December. He is earning around Tk 25,000 per month now-a-days. His shop is selling at Tk 8,000 to 9,000 per day. Unless he gets a very good offer, he will not consider going abroad anymore.

A total of 408,000 workers had returned from different countries last year. The Probashi Kallyan Bank started to receive applications for rehabilitation loans from 15 July. However, they have provided loans only to 616 people till December

Kamaluddin told Prothom Alo, “The loan from the government has helped me a lot. I have been able to restart after losing everything.” The Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment said that the Probashi Kallyan Bank was provided Tk 2 billion (200 crore) from the Wage Earner’s Welfare Board for the reintegration of the returning migrant workers. The bank will provide loans for agriculture, fisheries and small businesses woth a four per cent interest rate. The expatriates have been asked to submit applications for this. Besides, the government has allocated another Tk 5 billion (500 crore) for the Probashi Kallyan Bank. This money is to be spent in creating income opportunities by providing loans to the expatriates on easy terms.

New hopes in fisheries

Sarwar Jahan of Halughat in Mymensingh has started fish cultivation with the lease of four ponds. He was in Malaysia for 11 years. While abroad he set up a shop of fertiliser, husk and fuel oil in his area. He came to the country on vacation before the outbreak of coronavirus and couldn’t return to his workplace. His involvement in fisheries with the loan from the Probashi Kallyan Bank has given new hope for the family. He did not have to struggle to get the loan either.

Sarwar Jahan said that he can at least survive well with the money from the loan. However, it would have been better if the time given to repay the first installment was a bit longer. It is difficult to repay the first installment within one month of getting the loan from fish farming.

A total of 408,000 workers had returned from different countries last year. The Probashi Kallyan Bank started to receive applications for rehabilitation loans from 15 July. However, they have provided loans only to 616 people till December.

Although there were strict conditions at first, the number of beneficiaries is increasing now. The expatriates are being provided with a loan of Tk 300,000 instead of 200,000 without any security deposit from January.

I could barely run my family working as a mason after returning home. This loan has given me mental strength
Zakir Hossain, returnee migrant worker

Livelihood from a grocery shop

Aolad Hossain of Dohar has returned from Abu Dhabi in the UAE. He was in that country for 14 years. His company had to lay him off due to the COVID-19 situation. He had finished all his savings building a house in his village. He has opened a grocery shop using the money he got from the loan. Even after clearing bank installment and the arrears, he is now earning around Tk 10,000 to Tk 12,000 from the shop per month.

The concerned individuals are saying that it is also important to make arrangements for training along with the loans, because most of the expatriates are not experts in entrepreneurship. Many more workers will get the scope to bounce back if proper directives and help are provided. And the expatriates are saying they will be more benefited if they are given a bit more time to repay the installments and the interest rate is lessened.

Zakir Hossain went to Maldives with a loan of Tk 150,000 from the Probashi Kallyan Bank. He repaid the loan from his income abroad. However, he has been stranded here since coming to the country on vacation. He took a loan from the same bank again. He is now manufacturing and selling furniture in Dohar. He is making about Tk 6,000 per month after clearing Tk 6,500 for the loan installment and Tk 4,000 for rent. He hopes that his earning will increase gradually.

Zakir Hossain told Prothom Alo, “I could barely run my family working as a mason after returning home. This loan has given me mental strength.”

According to the Probashi Kallyan Bank authorities, workers who returned from abroad after 1 January last year are being provided with special reintegration loans.

Apart from this, they are being provided with reintegration loans and ‘Bangabandhu Immigrant's Large Family Loan’ (a new loan service). The bank is increasing its manpower and branches to bring more expatriates under this facility. The banks branches are being given the power to disburse these loans.

BRAC is also leading the way

Parvin Akter of Laksham in Cumilla district was stranded in the country after coming on vacation in February last year. She was in Saudi Arabia for three years. After returning, she was having difficulties with children and no income until BRAC extended their assistance. They bought her a sewing machine and some fabric with Tk 25,000. She has earned Tk 10,000 from selling clothes. Now she makes women’s clothes for Tk 150 per day. She told Prothom Alo, “I am now in a much better condition than before. If the income was better, my children could be sent to schools.”

BRAC has undertaken a project of Tk 1 billion (100 crore) to help the expatriates who returned. Of this, Tk 300 million (30 crore) will be spent for the workers who had to return due to the coronavirus situation. The organisation has helped 71 expatriates with cash till December. The beneficiaries have received help ranging from Tk 25,000 to Tk 350,000.

Harunur Rashid, who returned from France, now runs a motorcycle rider sharing business. BRAC has brought him two motorcycles. He rented one of these motorcycles for Tk 10,000. He rides the other one. He is earning Tk 15,000 per month now and running his family well. He is planning to take a loan from the Probashi Kallyan Bank to increase his income. He told Prothom Alo that he couldn’t earn that much money while abroad. He had to come back because he didn't have the valid documents.

Altaf Hossain of Noakhali also returned for the same reason. After going to several countries, he arrested by the police and in the end had to return home. He has started a livestock farm with help of Tk 250,000 from BRAC. He is not earning from this yet. He is struggling to cover costs of the farm and so he wants to get the expatriate loan. He said, “I can barely run my family. I went to the bank once but didn’t get the loan."

A fresh start after losing everything

Masud Mia was in the UAE for 13 years. He spent all his savings in building a house in his village and arranging money for the marriage ceremonies of his brothers and sisters. He was sent back to the country without receiving eight months' salary. Being in deep trouble after returning, he took a loan from the Probashi Kallyan Bank. He has opened a general store and fruit shop at Ishwarganj in Mymensingh. He sells about Tk 5,000 to 6,000 a day. Excluding all expenses, he is earning about Tk 12,000 per month. He said, “I could not pay the first month installment, but I will definitely repay the loan.”

These expatriates are saying, they are seeing that they can lead a solvent life by working in the country too. If their small initiatives are successful, other unemployed expatriates will also be encouraged. If they want, they can also take loans from the bank and take such initiatives now. This will also bring prosperity to their families.

When asked about this, Tasneem Siddiqui, the founder of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), told Prothom Alo that turning around with the help of loans is certainly promising. However, this needs to be expanded further. If necessary, the loan facility should be extended to more expatriates by involving development partners.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashish Basu