Bangladeshi expatriate workers are going through various problems due to the global coronavirus outbreak. Most of our workers who were abroad were involved in construction and various other occupations. Coronavirus has reduced the demand for these jobs in many countries. Due to this, a large number of expatriate workers had to return to the country. Many of them are the sole bread earners of the family. Now not only are the returning workers in a crisis, but so are their families.
Remittances from expatriate workers inflate our foreign exchange reserves and boosts our economy. According to a report of Prothom Alo on Thursday, 408,000 expatriate workers returned to the country last year. Although it is normal for workers to come and go, the number of workers who returned from abroad last year is much higher than the number who went to various countries. This is one of the reasons for concern.
Expatriate workers and the ones who returned have many problems that the government should look into. Many are stuck in the country, unable to leave due to flight closure. The expatriate welfare secretary said that the returning workers were very eager about the Tk 5000 taka given by the Wage Earners Board at the airport, but they have no interest in taking the expatriate loans. The reason must be examined.
It is very disappointing that less than 1 per cent of the special programme of the government to provide loans of Tk 2 billion for the rehabilitation of returning migrant workers has been disbursed. Only 616 people have taken this loan which is only 0.15 per cent. What is the reason for the current situation of loan disbursement? First, a large portion of expatriate workers do not know about credit facilities. Although the loan was given through Probashi Kalyan Bank, it has only 66 branches across the country. If the government wishes to give loan facilities to the returning workers, other banks must be used too. If necessary, the interest rate should be further reduced.
Second, the conditions that were initially imposed on borrowing were not met by many. For example, it was compulsory to submit a passport to take a loan. But how will the workers who have left their passports abroad and come to the country only with travel documents, apply? Later, when the loan terms were relaxed a bit, the amount of loan disbursement also increased a bit.
Another problem is, where do expatriate workers use the loans? They have been employed for a long time and have no business experience. Therefore, before giving a loan, the returning workers have to be given proper training. Some experts have emphasised on lending to social business through cooperative system. Repatriated workers will not benefit if the government or the expatriate ministry simply gives loans to workers without training. Women workers need to be given separate training so that they can do business on their own.