‘Migrant workers must be treated as a priority’

Rabiul Islam | Update:

Asif Munier. Photo Prothom AloAsif Munier is a development practitioner, rights activist and cultural activist. He has worked in the area of labour migration for over a decade with IOM, ILO and UNDP in different capacities. He has now moved on as an independent analyst on labour migration reforms and is contributing to project development as well as assessment in the sector. He recently spoke to Prothom Alo about the mistreatment of Bangladesh’s migrant workers, the need for good governance in the sector and more.


Prothom Alo: How do you view the current labour market?
Asif Munier: There has not been any significant positive change in the last 10 to 15 years. A number of existing labour markets including UAE, Kuwait and Malaysia is not recruiting workers from Bangladesh. Labour migration in Saudi Arabia continues to be riddled with problems. New studies have been undertaken to explore alternative employment opportunities beyond existing popular destinations, but no systematic steps or mechanism yet geared towards activating new labour market opportunities.

If we want to make our overseas labour market vibrant and sustainable, we have to enhance the skill of the aspirant migrants, both male and female. We also have to make better application of the laws, rules and policies to ensure safe, legal and dignified migration.

Prothom Alo: Why are the female migrants returning from Saudi Arabia?

Asif Munier: The traditional job market for female workers itself is a problem. When the majority of the female workers go to Saudi Arabia and even other countries in the Middle East for domestic work, it reduces the safety and dignity of the Bangladeshi women. Saudi Arabia is not like Bangladesh or any other Muslim country in Asia. It is a rich, feudalistic society where domestic workers are treated as slaves in the household. It is also a country where domestic laws do not cater to basic fundamental rights of individuals, locals or foreign. Even wives, sisters and daughters have limited rights in Saudi Arabia, so how can we expect anything better there for domestic workers from Bangladesh. That is why whenever they get a chance to escape, or when they are desperate due to the abuse and exploitation – female migrant workers attempt to return back to Bangladesh.

Some countries have even stopped female migration to the Middle East. If we want to continue, we should try to negotiate such terms of contract where the female workers are employed as part time in the household and are able to live together with other female workers in a dormitory. That way they can have access to peer support, also legal and mission support when abroad.

Prothom Alo: Why is the Malaysian labour market not opening up?

Asif Munier: This is also a job market which the authorities at both ends need to rethink and try to clean up. Organised crime through the various layers of recruiting agents, sub agents and through some alleged corruptive practices both by Malaysian and Bangladeshi officials in Malaysia control and exploit the Bangladeshi migrant workers or potential migrant workers to Malaysia. If such corrupt practices are not uprooted, the labour market in Malaysia will not improve.

The government and recruiting agents at both ends have to demonstrate that they have ensured the best interest of the migrant workers. We would like to hear from the migrant workers that they are proud of the government for what support these migrant workers get. Bangladesh should also learn from the experience of the G2G and G2G+ process, and update the bilateral arrangements into a modern, rights based bilateral agreement. This should also include opportunity for existing Bangladeshis to further improve their skills and regularise their migration status if they are still undocumented.

Prothom Alo: Labour migration is often used for human trafficking. What is your suggestion to prevent the menace?

Asif Munier: This again is an issue of the proper implementation of existing policies and enforcement of the relevant laws on migration and human trafficking. There is lack of awareness and eagerness to implement the most relevant and latest laws. One of the most significant aspects of enforcement that needs to happen is an acceleration of cases, verdicts and convictions against those responsible for human trafficking.

Prothom Alo: And how to establish good governance in migration?

Asif Munier: Political will is a must to establish good governance in the migration sector. The government has the Overseas Employment Act and Policies, also the Wage Earner’s Welfare Act. It is also trying to decentralise training and registration of the migrant workers. But improving the quality of the different government services will not automatically happen, unless there is a political will to treat the migrant workers as a priority to receive dignity, service and protection.

Quite often, services are inadequate and given with an attitude of patron and client, top down and almost like it is a favour towards the migrant – not as their right. This mindset needs to change among the public and private service providers in the labour migration sector.

Prothom Alo: Thank you.
Asif Munier: Thank you and the readers too.

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