Many migrant workers, especially from Malaysia, Qatar and UAE, refused to speak to the media about their hardship and problems fearing persecution from their host countries
Many migrant workers, who serve Bangladesh’s economy greatly with their remittance, are now leading a miserable life in different countries due to lack of jobs, food, shelter, and legal support.
Although unemployment or abrupt termination of jobs remain the most common problem for many migrants abroad, many workers have also become victims to non-payment of salaries by their employers, and complications with their visa and work permits.
Many migrant workers, especially from Malaysia, Qatar and UAE, also refused to speak to the media about their hardship and problems fearing persecution by their host countries.
Lack of job opportunities and expired work permits (Iqama) are the two major problems faced by Bangladeshi migrants in Saudi Arabia.
Punam Bhuiyan from Munshiganj, had been working as an electrician with a company in Saudi Arabia for the last nine years. He was fully without work from April to May due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But his employer does not agree to renew his iqama. Later, he found some scope to work, for only two to three days a week.
Now, Punam’s work permit has expired and employers refuse to renew his Iqama.
“I need SR15,000 [Saudi Riyals] to renew my Iqama for one year. If I renew this from my account, I will fail to earn this money back in one year. As per my job contract, my company is responsible for renewing my Iqama. Now, I am planning to go back to Bangladesh as I have no other options left,” he said.
Masudul Isam Shuvo from Dinajpur is tormented by bad luck too.
He went to Saudi Arabia some eight months back, spending Tk500,000 on a “free”house driver visa. A free visa is a contract where recruiters in Saudi Arabia bring in workers from different countries on contract, without guarantee of a job.
Till now, Shuvo has failed to find work for even a single day.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, he said he came to Saudi Arabia with the money he got from selling his agricultural land. Failing to find work, he had to resort to taking more money from Bangladesh to pay his daily expenses.
“I tried to manage a job here but failed. I took money from my family to manage food and rent in order to survive. I see no work opportunity here,” he said.
Like Punam, Shuvo is also waiting to come back home.
United Arab Emirates
Issues related to termination of employment, expired visas, and working without a salary have long been troubling Bangladeshi migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Masud Rana from Munshiganj, had been working at a top construction company in Abu Dhabi of UAE. At least 15,000 Bangladeshi migrants work for this company.
However, Masud is yet to receive his salary for the month of May, June, July and August. He also fears that he might not even receive his salary for the month of September too.
“I am not getting my salary for the last four months, although I have been working the same as I used to before the Covid-19 pandemic. I do not know when I will get my salary,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
“Visas of many Bangladeshi workers have already expired. My company intends to send back at least 5,000 Bangladeshi workers after international flights resume. Some of them have already sent back”
“The UAE government has already served a notice stating that if the company fails to renew visas of their employees by paying the visa fee by November 17, these employees will be sent back home,” he added.
Talking to Dhaka tribune, migrant worker Md Rubel said he thinks he was fortunate that he was not terminated from his job like many other Bangladeshis in Malaysia during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I work in a company in Kuala Lumpur which makes gloves and masks. For this reason, I could manage to keep my job during the pandemic. But there are many illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Malaysia who do not have jobs and are suffering a lot,” he said.
“Many people are unemployed here because they do not have valid documents, visas or work permits. For this reason, they cannot work during the daytime. Due to Covid-19, all illegal Bangladeshis are staying at home as immigration police have been very active to nab them. If any illegal immigrants are caught by police, they will be deported back home.”
“Many Bangladeshis are also struggling for food and looking for middle men for valid documents to stay in Malaysia. It is easy here to obtain valid documents with bribes, if one finds a middle man having good relations with Malaysian officials,” he also added.
Bangladeshi migrant workers in Singapore are much better off than in Gulf countries, but most have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Suman Saha has been working in Singapore for the past four years, who told Dhaka Tribune: “I was totally unemployed from March till May of this year. Now, I found work for only half a month.”
“As my employers have only been giving me my basic salary, all the money that I get is spent on food and other personal needs as the price of everything went up due to the pandemic. If I cannot do a full time job with overtime, I will not be able to send money to my family,” he said
“All Bangladeshi workers have been receiving their basic salary in Singapore, regardless of the company having work or not,” he added.
In Europe, the sufferings of Bangladeshi migrants have not been any less compared to their counterparts in the Middle East or East Asian countries.
Saidur Rahman went to Paris in France in December 2019, where he managed to get a job paying €600 per month at a departmental store owned by another Bangladeshi. However, his employer terminated him from the job just after two months due to the pandemic.
“The store owner binned my job after two months of joining in order to cut down on his expenses. It is very hard to manage a job in Paris, especially for those who do not have any work permit or citizenship papers.”
However, Saidur has been receiving €400 as a monthly allowance after filing an asylum plea with the government.
“I came here spending Tk1,700,000. Now, I am staying in a shared room with four other Bangladeshis, all suffering from the same problem. Paris is the second most expensive city in the world. I am already in debt. Now, I desperately need a job so that I can send money home to pay off my debts,” he said.
What do experts say?
Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) chair, Dr Tasneem Siddiqui, told Dhaka Tribune: “During the caretaker government period, many criminals went to the UAE to escape trial in Bangladesh. These criminals had been continuing their illegal activities in the UAE. This is why the UAE stopped recruiting workers from Bangladesh.
“Malaysia also stopped recruiting Bangladeshis due to their internal corruption,” she said.
“Bangladesh should work closely on a regular basis with the governments of these countries to solve such problems. The government should look into other issues in other countries through its missions and embassies,” she said.
Brac Migration Program Head Shariful Hasan said: “The Bangladesh government sent Tk 100 million to different countries to meet immediate food and basic needs of migrants during the pandemic. It also formed two loan funds worth Tk7 billion in total. Brac has the plan to spend Tk100 crore for the wellbeing of the migrants. Especially on returnee migrants. But skill development is the key to stay and earn more abroad along with strong diplomatic efforts.”