Labour migration to KSA: Problems at both ends

Raheed Ejaz | Update:

Saudi-ArabiaBangladeshi migrants are being deported regularly from Saudi Arabia for various reasons.

Some 393 migrants have returned between 1 and 4 November. And female migrants are returning after being harassed in the oil rich country.

Officials at the foreign ministry and the expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry said there are some problems at both ends in sending Bangladeshi migrants to Saudi Arabia.

They also said the female migrants face various harassment and they are unable to adjust themselves in the new environment.

It is not possible for the embassy to look after the female migrants, the officials added.

Although male migrants are going to Saudi Arabia with iqama (work permit), a large section of them falls in trouble due to free visas, the officials added.

The officials said these migrants are being deported due to the expiry of the tenure of iqama and changing of employers.

On condition of anonymity, officials said the agencies involved in the recruitment process in Saudi Arabia are not transparent. The agencies do not take any responsibility after the migrants reach the destination, the officials added.

Regarding female migrants, the accountability of the recruiting agents could not be ensured, the officials lamented.

Under the circumstances, the rights activists suggested the government should place emphasis on removing the existing problems in the interest of orderly migration.

About the workers' problems in Saudi Arabia, expatriates’ welfare minister Imran Ahmed said there are some problems in the process of sending female migrants.

“We are going to bring a change in the training and the duration period so that the migrants can easily adjust in the new environment. We are also taking steps to protect migrants there,” he told Prothom Alo.

The expat minister said an investigation is being carried out as to why male migrants are returning. Actions will be taken against those who are found responsible, he added.

Official sources said over 1,000 migrants are returning every month. A total of 13,700 migrants returned home between January and 4 November this year. According to the non-government organisation, the number is over 18,000 and 90 per cent of them are male workers.

After receiving the demand letters from the Saudi Arabia, the Bangladesh embassy and the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) give the approval. The private recruiting agencies send them to Saudi Arabia.

According to Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia, the oil rich country deported one million foreign workers of seven countries including Bangladesh, India and Pakistan between January 2017 and September 2019. Among the deported, at least 100,000 are Bangladeshis. The Saudi authorities have recently provided this statistics to Bangladesh.

According to BMET, a total of 1,278,920 migrants migrated to the Middle East country between January 2015 and September 2019. Of them, 293,588 migrants are female.

The foreign ministry sources said a total of 9,177 female migrants have been kept in shelter homes in Saudi Arabia between 2015 and 30 October 2019. Of them, 8,637 female migrants were sent back. In 10 months of this year, 1,206 female migrants were kept in the shelter home of the embassy in Riyadh. Of them, 93 migrants were ill. At least 16 were pregnant while they came to the shelter homes. Later, 787 migrants were sent back home.

Diplomatic sources said the recruitment to the Saudi labour market was suspended between 2009 and 2014. The market was opened again in 2015 through sending female migrants.

Since the sending of female migrants, the Saudi government said the aspirants have to know Arabic and they must have a fair understanding of Saudi culture.

The rights activists alleged these issues were never taken into the consideration and the migrants are being sent without proper preparation.

Bangladesh diplomats said 95 of the migrants, both male and female, migrated to Saudi Arabia are unskilled. The government is not taking adequate steps to enhance the skill of the workers, they added.

The diplomats said the Saudi authorities, however, are asking the Bangladesh authorities to bring discipline to the recruitment process and enhance the skill of the migrants.

Migration costs for Bangladeshi male workers are higher than in other countries. Bangladeshi migrants spend three times higher than that of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Philippines to go to Saudi Arabia for work. A migrant has spent about Tk 300,000 to 500,000 to go there. However, a migrant receives only 600 to 800 riyals (Tk 12,000 to 16,000). The migrants have to fight to recover the migration cost.

About the return of Bangladeshi migrants from Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) secretary general Noman Ahmed Chowdhury said the Saudi authorities detain foreign workers if they do not have legal documents and if they work for one organisation without permission.

“We are not certain as to why Bangladeshi workers are being deported,” he told Prothom Alo.

Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) founding chairperson Tasneem Siddiqui said, “There are problems at both ends in the labour migration to Saudi Arabia. There is nothing much we can do with the problems existing in Saudi Arabia. We have to ensure safe and orderly migration from our end”.

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

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