Expatriate worker deaths on the rise, yet govt remains impervious

Prothom Alo illustration

Remittance sent by expatriate workers is one of the main driving forces of the country’s economy. It was also one of the main tools to keep our economy vibrant during coronavirus pandemic. Yet, there is no end to allegations over noncooperation and misbehaviour by Bangladesh missions abroad towards the expatriate workers. Then again, there is the the manipulation by the agents, passport and visa complexities, workplace and security harassment.

Now added to this list is negligence towards the expatriate workers who have passed away. The bodies of about 40,000 expatriates have arrived home over the past decade. Though the unnatural death of expatriates is on the rise, the government is doing nothing to prevent this. Nor are the Bangladesh missions abroad investigating these deaths. There is no monitoring of workplace environment for expatriate workers either.

A report of the non-government research organisation on migration, Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), highlighted such sufferings of the expatriate workers. Gulf countries see more deaths of expatriate workers with many expatriates being buried in foreign lands. But the ministry never investigated the cause of these deaths. No explanation is found regarding more than half of the deaths that were cited on death certificates as either ‘natural death’ or ‘sudden cardiac death’.

Awami League lawmaker Tanvir Shakil, at the launch of the report, admitted the state has failed to do its duty to the “remittance soldiers.” At the event, the member secretary of parliamentary committee on migration affairs Majhabeen Khaled said, “We do not talk about the bitter stories behind our remittance as much as we get delighted over it. And it is necessary to make Bangladesh missions abroad more expatriate-friendly and increase their capacity.”

Seventy to 80 per cent of expatriate workers in Middle East countries work in low wage sectors like construction, household work and the service sector. They are contributing to the foreign countries as well as keeping the country’s economy vibrant by sending back remittance. But they are losing their lives in foreign lands, due to the insensibility and negligence of the government. Many times, there has been no compensation either. Experts observe high cost of migration, pressure of additional work, excessive heat and tendency to eat high calorie food are creating pressure on expatriate workers.

It is necessary for the government to verify the death of expatriate workers and take immediate action to prevent it. Other South Asian countries are ahead of us in providing services to expatriates as well as in diplomatic effort in relation to the interest of the expatriates. There is no alternative to improving bilateral relations and maintaining regular communication to ensure workplace environment and security for expatriate workers.

When an expatriate dies, his/her relatives face extreme difficulty in bringing the body home. They have to go to innumerable government offices. Relatives of the deceased expatriate even send letters to Prothom Alo describing their hassles. These letters state each expatriate has just one request to the government; when an expatriate dies in a foreign country, the government should not let the body be kept at the hospital morgue for month after month. The family of the deceased expatriate should not be required to selling their homestead to get enough money to bring the body home. This is very saddening.

Former foreign secretary Shahidul Haque said, “The entire migration sector is corrupted. If this sector is to be brought under discipline, many people would lose their commissions. Some people become rich overnight and sufferings of the poor continue.” Do all of these not reflect the failure of the government on migration sector?

We do not want to see such a miserable scenario for the people whose remittance is boosts the country's economy. Insensibility of the government towards the expatriates must end.