"As soon as I returned to the country, I learnt that I was a 'Rohingya'," Hashi Begum, a Bangladeshi exaptriate in Lebanon said as she returned home after six years.
Hashi fell sick in Lebanon and had to undergo surgery. Unable to afford the medical expenses, she was compelled to return home to Bangladesh, but faced a very hostile reception at the Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka. It took her about 13 hours to leave the airport after interrogation.
As Hashi suffered from acute pain from the surgery, police there called in the airport physician who gave her some painkillers. By the time Hashi could leave the airport, her father Hanif Khalasi had already spent 18 hours waiting in front of the airport.
"I went abroad with a passport," Hashi said, "We expatriates are neither respected at home or abroad." She said, "I was harassed both at the Lebanon embassy and at Dhaka airport by the police."
Such harassment is common for migrant workers at Dhaka airport over the last few days. Around 30 to 40 expatriates return every day. The immigration police release expatriates returning from the Middle East after interrogation and verification.
Though they are provided with meals, these passengers faced with jet lag, then go through several rounds of interrogation by various agencies.
Shilpy Akhter of Narayanganj, who returned from Lebanon after 10 years, said that the local chairman from her union parishad had to be contacted over phone from the airport and her family had to ‘bribe’ the local police for her nationality verification before she finally could emerge from the airport after 15 hours.
Those travelling with travel passes, issued by the embassy for not having a legal passports, suffer more.
Though the ministry of expatriate welfare and overseas employment is active to stop all harassment, the home ministry and the foreign ministry carry out travel pass and security verification, said Rownaq Jahan, secretary of the expatriates' ministry.
The home ministry’s immigration department under the security services division sent a letter to the foreign ministry on 16 May asking the Bangladesh embassies abroad not to issue travel permits without the ministry's approval.
"Verification is required for security reasons, but there's no need to harass anyone," home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said adding, "It will be verified whether these passengers are detained for long."
According to the returned expatriates, Bangladesh embassies abroad issued them travel passes after verification and there were no harassment at the airports abroad. But the suffering at the airport back home was extreme.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.