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Migrant workers from Bangladesh: Too many die on foreign shores

  • Published at 12:32 am December 30th, 2019
File photo of a mother weeping beside the coffin that arrived in Dhaka from Malaysia carrying her son’s body at Hazrat Shahajalal International Airport Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

This year the highest number of dead bodies - 3838 migrant workers - were sent back to Bangladesh up until November

The year 2019 was marred by deaths, suicides, abuse, and deportation for Bangladeshi migrant workers.

This year the highest number of dead bodies - 3838 migrant workers - were sent back to Bangladesh up until November, according to data compiled by non government organization Brac.

Brac's Migration Program Head Shariful Islam Hasan, however, noted that “Amid all the bad news, this year also brought possibilities of opening up of new job markets for Bangladeshi workers in countries like Japan and Cambodia,” said to Dhaka Tribune. 

He also said: “It is a good sign that the government officials have started acknowledging about the human right violation of migrant workers.” 

“This is the first step towards finding a solution,” he added.

He informed Dhaka Tribune that a meeting was held in November where the government of Bangladesh raised the issue of migrant workers’ abuse in Saudi Arabia and placed their recommendations to protect the rights of Bangladeshi migrant workers.

Here are a few 2019 stories about the lives of migrant workers and their struggles:  

The highest number of dead bodies sent home

This year, the highest number of dead Bangladeshi migrant workers was sent back to Bangladesh compared to the last 15 years.

According to the Brac Migration program, 3838 dead bodies of migrant workers were sent back to Bangladesh up until November of 2019. In 2005, the number was only 1248, and in 2018 3,793 bodies were sent back to Bangladesh. 

Horrific tales of abuse of female migrant workers 

The grim picture of female migrant workers from Bangladesh in Saudi Arabia came to light when a number of workers returned to Bangladesh with horrific tales of abuse by their employers in Saudi Arabia.  

A total of 1,250 female migrant workers returned to Bangladesh from Saudi Arabia in 2019.

129 women were brought brought home dead, according to the Brac Migration Program, and of them, 24 committed suicide. 

Civil society members and women's rights activists condemned the exploitation of Bangladeshi female migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and demanded their security, with protection from killing, rape, and repression. 

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen acknowledged in November that some Bangladeshi female workers were tortured in Saudi Arabia. 

For the first time, Bangladesh authorities have admitted the abuse of female workers in Saudi Arabia.

The Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare & Overseas Employment (MEWOE), after investigating 111 cases of returning female workers in August, found that 35% of them were victims of sexual and physical abuse, while 43% received irregular wages.

The report identified 11 fundamental reasons why Bangladeshi migrant women fled their workplace, which included physical and sexual abuse, inadequate food, no leave, and irregular salaries from their employers.

Recent Saudi policy leads to massive deportation 

At least 24,281 Bangladeshi workers returned from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia between January 1 and November 30, 2019, because of new Saudi Arabian policies. 

Government officials and experts say the number of migrants is way more than the number of jobs there. The recent Saudi nationalization scheme or Nitaqat meant to increase the employment of Saudi nationals, has led to layoffs of Bangladeshi migrant workers.

In all 55,335 workers have returned to Bangladesh in 2019. 

For third consecutive year, Bangladesh remains on a tier 2 watch list

According to the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2019, Bangladesh does not fully meet the minimum standards to curb human trafficking. The growing risk of human trafficking from the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar was also a factor in keep Bangladesh on the tier 2 watch list for the last three consecutive years.

The Government of Bangladesh does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so, according to the report.

 The report also stated: “These efforts included adopting a national action plan to combat human trafficking, convicting traffickers, initiating an investigation into a police officer accused of child sex trafficking, and continuing to investigate some potential trafficking crimes against Rohingya refugees. Despite at least 100 credible reports of forced labour and sex trafficking of Rohingyas within Bangladesh, the government did not report investigating or prosecuting these potential crimes and the Bangladesh High Court did not entertain anti-trafficking cases filed by the Rohingya.”

Migrant workers continue to return as job market shrinks for Bangladesh

The job market for Bangladeshi workers continues to shrink globally as workers continue to return, largely because of policy changes overseas and also because most workers going abroad are unskilled. 

The Malaysian government offered amnesty under its “Back for Good (B4G)” programme to repatriate illegal foreigners starting August 1. The amnesty will end on December 31.  

So far, over 40,000 Bangladeshi workers have come back from Malaysia since August 1 and about 30,000 are waiting to return before the amnesty ends.

Those failing to return under the amnesty will face legal action including imprisonment and fines.

Saudi Arabia has also deported at least 21,000 workers of Bangladesh in the first 10 months of 2019.

Bangladesh ratified UN treaty to combat human trafficking

The Bangladesh government signed a UN treaty to combat human trafficking in September. The “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children” is one of the three protocols that make up the United Nations' Palermo Protocols on trafficking – which provides countries with an international definition and guidelines on how they should tackle human trafficking.

Officials said the signing of the protocol will help Bangladesh deal with the social and economic impact of human trafficking. 

Introduction of a toll free hotline

The government launched a toll free hotline in December to provide necessary information services with regard to the migration process for workers and their families.

Prospective migrants, migrant workers and their families can avail information free of cost by dialing 08000102030. Another number, +9610102030, was also launched to offer information services to migrant labour living abroad.

The hotlines are open from 7am to 11pm every day.

37 Bangladeshis migrants drown on the coast of Tunisia 

Bangladeshi migrant workers are still risking their lives to cross the border in pursuit of a ‘better life’. Another deadly sea crossing took the lives of 37 Bangladeshi migrant workers this year.

Reportedly, 37 Bangladeshis died when their boat drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after it left Libya for Italy in May 2019.

Survivors told the Tunisian Red Crescent the tragedy unfolded after some 75 people who had left Zuwara on the northwestern Libyan coast late Thursday on a large boat were transferred to a smaller one that sank off the coast of Tunisia, reports AFP.

Survivors said the boat was heading to Italy and had only men on board, 51 from Bangladesh.

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