Thousands of migrant workers return home empty-handed

Migrant workers work at a construction site in QatarFile photo

More than 100,000 migrant workers have been going abroad for jobs every month over the past two years, but thousands of them returned home after failing to seek a fortune. There is no official data on all the migrants who return home without making any fortune, and only those who lost everything, are detained by police and deported, as well as returned empty-handed are counted.

Migrants who lost everything don’t have a passport and return home with an outpass, issued by the Bangladesh missions abroad. The Expatriate’s Welfare Desk of the Wage Earners' Welfare Board gathers data on migrants returning home with outpasses.

Md Abdul Baset, from Tangail, took out a loan and went to Oman last September through a manpower agent. He was supposed to get a job at a hotel, but he was taken to another supply company where he failed a medical test. He then stayed at an agent’s camp in a desert for 13 days where he barely had food. Finally, he returned home.

Abdul Baset told Prothom Alo he must beg if he returns home empty-handed, so he begged for a job but he did not get it. He passed the medical test at home before leaving for abroad, and now he has a debt of Tk 500,000 and lives in an inhuman condition.

There are many migrants who spent thousands of money and went abroad to seek fortune, but returned home indebted soon. Several such migrants said a large number of workers are going to Saudi Arabia but the country does not have adequate jobs, so they remain jobless there. Besides, many workers who returned from the Middle East had their passports expired, and many had not had iqama (work permit) either.

Monir Mia, from Chauddagram, Cumilla, returned home at the beginning of December. He went to Saudi Arabia for an agriculture related job. He was also supposed to get other work. Since he did not have the job opportunity, he escaped the farm after eight months.  He then worked at various places illegally for two years. He had no job for the last six months. So, he returned home with the help of the embassy. Many migrants in Saudi Arabia have no job while many have no iqama either. So, the kingdom’s police are detaining them and deporting them, he added.

According to sources of several agencies that provide services to migrants at airports, 250-300 migrants have been returning home empty-handed everyday over the past several months. They don’t have clothes and money, and each of such migrants receives Tk 1,000 under the BRAC’s migration programmes so they can travel home from the airport.

According to a government agency, 78,328 migrants returned home in 11 months this year but the agency, however, has no data on how many migrants come back home with passports. People concerned from the migration sector said the scenario of failed migration is much worse, with the number exceeding 100,000 per year.

Number of returnees on the rise

A total of 64,438 migrants returned home with outpasses in 2019. As the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the Expatriate’s Welfare Desk kept the record of the returnees. The data reveals about 400,000 migrants come home annually. However, a major portion of these migrants came home on leave and over half of them went back to their jobs in different countries. However, the number of migrants who became unsuccessful has started to rise now.

According to the data from the Wage Earners' Welfare Board, as many as 80,811 migrants – 78,079 male and 2,732 female – returned home empty-handed from 1 January to 8 December this year. People concerned said the figure may rise as Saudi Arabia has been raiding against migrants and deporting illegal foreign workers for various reasons. Several other countries including Malaysia are also doing the same.

According to the government data, some 6,493 migrants returned home in October and 8,852 in November.

Expatriate welfare and overseas employment ministry senior secretary Ahmed Munirus Saleheen told Prothom Alo that they were trying to ensure that not a single worker needs to return home after becoming the victim of deception. That is why the manpower recruitment process has been made more difficult and work was underway to ensure the job verification prior to sending workers abroad, he added.

Helpless after returning home

There are many government and private initiatives to send workers abroad but there are not that many activities for the returnees. Indonesia and the Philippines started this a long time ago. Several projects were undertaken in the country after the Covid-19, but the number of its beneficiaries did not rise. Migrants who have already been in debt fall into danger again after returning home and the families become helpless. Their rehabilitation has become necessary.

Shamim Mia, from Nabinagar, Brahmanbaria, spent Tk 450,000 to go to Saudi Arabia for a construction job. Police detained him from his workplace. They held him for a week and then deported him. He returned home in the last week of November.

He claimed his work permit was valid for two more months. Yet, the police deported him. He stayed in Saudi Arabia for eight months, but he now lives in debt with a family of five as he could not repay his loans. He also saw police detaining 227 people in Saudi Arabia.

In such a context, Bangladesh has been observing the International Migration Day on Monday (18 December). This year, the United Nations emphasises respecting the role and rights of the migrants. The theme of the day in Bangladesh is, “Migrant workers are partner of development, we will uphold their rights.”

Some migrants return home within a month

Ashish Mondal, from Dhaka, along with a group of 18 people went to Saudi Arabia on 2 March through a manpower agent. Two of them were denied entry to the kingdom at Dammam airport. They stayed at the airport for three days and then were deported home. After returning to the country, Ashish Mondal brought Tk 15,000 from home and gave that to the airlines to get back his passport.

He told Prothom Alo that he spent Tk 350,000 to go to the country and returned home empty-handed. Now he is in debt. He could not even trace the agent. If people are sent aboard in such a way, there will be no option other than begging, he lamented.

Private research organisation Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) conducted a survey between October and November on 218 migrants, including 42 females, who returned home after 2020. The survey report, released in November, found migrants came back home for a number of reasons.

A large number of the migrants returned home after not getting jobs. Fifteen per cent of the workers had no jobs abroad and 20 per cent did not receive the job as per their contract. These workers have no way other than coming back home.

Fifteen per cent of workers surveyed returned home within a month; 29 per cent came back within six months while 47 per cent of workers who were forced to return had no iqama (work permit). Seventy-two per cent of the workers who incurred financial loss due to returning home early received no compensation while many of the returnees suffer from physical and mental illness.

Community based migrant workers’ organisation, Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP) president Shakirul Islam told Prothom Alo that migrants who lost everything  or were deported returned home with an outpass. Other than this, many came back with illness, or voluntarily as having no jobs, but nobody knows their number. That is why the number of migrants who return home after failing to seek fortune abroad is two to three times more than the number of returnees having outpasses. This has humanitarian, social and financial risk, which is why its prevention is very necessary, he added.