Many of us grew up hearing about the syndicates of rice, dal, oil and salt markets in the third world countries. A few days ago we saw the government officials launched raids at different wholesale markets and shops against hoarding edible oil. What an unfortunate fate for men and women migrants! You have been given the honourable title of 'remittance warriors', of 'today's freedom fighters', but in actuality it seems your value is even less than oil or salt. Except for the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry, no other department comes forward to talk in your favour.
On 19 December 2021, Bangladesh signed an agreement with Malaysia to send migrants to the Southeast Asian nation. Expat minister Imran Ahmed was highly lauded for signing the agreement protecting the rights of the migrants. We were extremely delighted with the the labour market opening after remaining closed for so long. But at the beginning of 2022, we have to hear the bad news of a certain number of our recruiting agencies influencing the concerned ministry of Malaysia. Malaysian human resource minister M Saravanan officially sent a letter to our minister to recruit migrants through 25 recruiting agencies, bypassing rights-based agreement. Thank you, the minister. In response the minister said his ministry has no scope to allow sending migrants ignoring the rules and regulations and depriving the majority of the recruiting agencies.
But a matter of surprise is that the Malaysian human resource ministry stuck to its unfair demand. Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants (BCMS), a platform of 23 organisations working for safe migration, urged the government to go against the syndication. They also apprised the government of past bitter experience in 2016 when a move was taken to send migrants to Malaysia taking merely service charge through 10 recruiting agencies.
But those recruiting agencies charged high migration costs and cheated the aspirant migrants. The recruiters made huge money. Coming to the power, the Malaysian new government suspended the agreement on charges of irregularities. Those recruiting agents were not brought to book. This time, those recruiting agencies have increased in number and are trying to boost their own wealth.
There is a verdict of the Appellate Division that there can be no syndication regarding the Malaysian labour market. Besides, Bangladesh has MoUs with 13 countries. But there is no syndication. Despite all these, the syndicate is going ahead unhindered. The syndicate has made a proposal that 250 more agencies as sub agents will be able to send workers to Malaysia. The syndicate is trying to turn legal recruiting agencies into middlemen.
But the question is, who are in this syndicate? Although some names appeared in the newspapers, we are unaware of 25 names. Why are their names not published? They are the enemies of the country. They are working against foreign exchange earnings. In the migration related laws of Philippines, such activities have been identified as sabotage against the national economy. Can't we bring these people under the accountability? Why we can't do it? Are they backed by an influential quarter? We want to believe that is not true.
The matter is very important. Thousands of poor aspirant migrants sell their property to meet the high migration costs. Then there is the issue of the negative impact on the foreign exchange reserves. On behalf of the entire civil society, we seek intervention of the prime minister. She repeatedly said she wants to see transparency in the labour migration process. We are certain if the prime minister only once speaks out, then the 25 recruiting agencies will refrain from their unfair activities.
*Tasneem Siddique is a professor at political department of Dhaka University and chairperson of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU).
*This article, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.