Expatriate workers’ safety requires strong monitoring in countries of employment

Speakers made a demand of funds being allocated to embassies overseas for fighting lawsuits

Shameem Haider Patwary, Salma Ali, Tania Haque and Zohra Mansoor
Prothom Alo

Expatriate workers fall sick within a short time of going abroad following mandatory medical checkup. For 14 years, an average nine bodies of expatriate workers are arriving in the country every day, five of which come from the Middle East.

There are allegations regarding the deaths also. Yet, there is no second post-mortem after the body arrives in the country. For expatriate workers’ safety, strong monitoring is required in the country of their employment.

This were stated in the keynote of a roundtable titled ‘Expatriate workers’ safety and scope for justice: Our responsibliity’. The roundtable was held at Prothom Alo office in city’s Karwan Bazar area on Thursday.

It was jointly organised by national women lawyers’ association, Helvetas and Prothom Alo with the support of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Chairman of parliamentary caucus on migration and development, Shameem Haider Patwary said that it’s a question of justice for 40 to 50 million people including millions of expatriates and their families. Yet, the government pays little attention to this.

The government cannot think of any development beyond infrastructure. Whereas, the remittance can be increased to USD 50 billion if only they wish to. He demanded to make post-mortem facilities available right at the airport to verify suspicious death and torture.  

National human rights commission member Tania Haque said alongside creating guidelines morality is necessary too. Everyone has to be responsible including those who are migrating. Every worker has to be qualified so that they don’t have to sacrifice with wages and respect.

Transparency and accountability have to be ensured for good governance. This requires researches too, so allocations from the ministry are required for research as well.

Bangladesh national women lawyers’ association president Salma Ali made the opening remarks. Later while speaking as the chair at the end of the discussion she said, it’s said that no difference can be made in the country of workers’ employment.

But the other countries are able to do that for their workers. Justice has to be ensured for the expatriates of the country. So, creation of bilateral agreements through bargain has to be stressed on.

Allocations have to be made to the embassies for fighting lawsuits, so that cases can be fought on behalf of the victim expatriate workers in respective countries.

After so much remittance comes in, why won't the government invest in this. This sector needs to be worked on by removing the lack of coordination among the expatriate, state and foreign ministries, she demanded.

Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) deputy director Zohra Mansoor advised on mobilising awareness before going overseas. She said that plenty of workers are migrating and awareness among them is essential.

Workers go overseas being lured by the agents and don’t want to listen to any warnings. Though they file complaints upon returning to the country they fail to provide any data or evidence.

To raise awareness among the workers, newer topics are regularly being included in the three-day mandatory BMET training. BMET oversees only one part of the process of migrating abroad but, safety is required everywhere. So the relevant laws and policies needs to be stressed.

Director (programme) of national women lawyers’ association Nafiz Imtiaz Hassan presented the keynote at the roundtable. It stated that women lawyers’ association has been working in Narsingdi, Cumilla and Chattogram since January 2021. They have received 1,359 allegations from expatriates in these three districts.

As much as 94 per cent of these expatriates are men whereas the remaining 6 per cent are women. Of them, 28 per cent have alleged that they have been victim of fraud, 35 per cent have been denied rights preserved by the labour law and contract while 22 per cent have made torture and death-related allegations.

Apart from that six per cent people have sought emergency assistance and nine per cent have made various other allegations including human trafficking.

It was stated in the keynote that expatriates’ complaints are being settled at BMET’s arbitration court. The arbitration process however gets lengthier for the lack of deeds and documents.

Plus, there is congestion of cases at the court too. So the expatriates lose interest. Fraud cases cannot be proved for the lack of documents. National legal aid services organisation can help with running the cases.

Deputy director (welfare) of the wage earners welfare board, Shariful Islam said that nothing can be done in the country of workers’ employment and this is the reality. If there’s transparency in passport making and medical checkup, a lot of the things will become easier.

Helvetas project director Abul Bashar said that someone or other is making profit in the entire migration process starting from the making of passports. The state must come forward to ensure institutional transparency and accountability.

Strengthened and informative migration systems chairperson Kazi Abul Kalam said that the process of migrating abroad as well as the transaction of money starts with mediators. And the scam starts with the very first step. The government can at least allocate legal aid fund at the Saudi Arabian embassy.

BRAC associate director as well as migration and youth initiative programme head Shariful Hassan said that the journey of safety and justice is a long way. But the expatriates can at least be respected. As their own state doesn’t give them respect, other countries don’t respect them either.

Programme officer of International Organization of Migration (IOM), Shahreen Munir said that sending workers abroad is not just a matter of numbers; their human rights have to be ensured as well.

Multidimensional management is required in the migration sector. There has to be monitoring in both countries, linked with the workers.

Refugee and migratory movements research unit (RAMRU) programme manager Inzamul Haque, expatriate worker development programme manager Abdullah Al Mamun and migration expert Asif Munir also spoke during the round table.

Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayyum delivered the opening speech while special affairs coordinator Firoz Choudhury moderated the roundtable.

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