Bangladeshi migrant workers are going to the Middle East and returning home in coffins. There have also been allegations of sexual exploitation of female workers for many years. It is appalling that 350 female workers in the Middle East have died in less than three and a half years.
The bodies of 311 female migrant workers have been brought to Bangladesh from 2016 to June this year, most of which are from Saudi Arabia. Worst of all, 53 of them committed suicide. Besides, 120 of them died of cerebral stroke while 56 died in accidents.
These female workers are mostly aged between 20 to 40. Deaths due to stroke are quite unusual.
A significant portion of the migrant female workers are poor. They borrow momney and sell their property to be able to get jobs abroad.
Then they have to return even before they can earn enough to cover the costs. Many of them complain of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. It is clear that these women are victims of violation of international labour law and human rights abuses.
Migrant workers are recognised worldwide not only for sending remittance back to their home country but also for their contributions to the socio-economic development of the host country as well. The status of migrant workers is a matter of mutual interest throughout the world.
Muslim-majority Bangladesh has historic ties with Saudi Arabia. Bangladesh's current government is said to have good understanding with the Saudi government.
It is upsetting that the ministry of expatriates' welfare has turned a blind eye to the matter. An additional secretary of the ministry went as far as to express surprise at the question in tis regard asked by a Daily Star reporter, and said he did not know about any deaths by suicide or stroke of migrant female workers. There should be an inquiry into the matter.
Again, what the labour counsellor of Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh said indicates to our helplessness. He claimed, there was no scope for Bangladesh authorities to investigate these unusual deaths in Saudi Arabia. Why can the Bangladesh embassy not take any initiative in this regard? Saudi Arabia has ratified 16 conventions so far since being recognised as a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1976. It has signed in six core conventions among eight.
Our government loves to show off millions of dollars in remittance earned by the expatriate workers. After the deaths in the Mediterranean, Thailand and Malyesia, it is alarming that the suicide rate of female migrant workers in Middle East shot up 17 times over the course of three years.
But the government has no explanation. More than 260,000 female migrant workers went to Saudi Arabia in three years (2016-2019). We expect that Bangladesh's embassies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, will be instructed to take appropriate action on the allegations of torture and suicide by our female workers. We demand the Saudi government to form a royal commission to investigate these incidents.