• Friday, Jan 28, 2022
  • Last Update : 03:32 am

Migration amid Covid-19: Experts fear worst is yet to come

  • Published at 08:13 pm December 29th, 2020
Internal migration
Dhaka Tribune

They made the observation during a virtual program organized by RMMRU on Monday

This year’s remittance inflow has played a vital role behind the surge in foreign exchange reserves. Such a reality depicts a positive image of the migration sector despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. 

But remittance flow will definitely go down in the upcoming year, experts fear, as the impact of the coronavirus crisis will have a lasting effect on the country’s migrant workers.

They made the observation during a virtual program organized by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) on Monday. RMMRU, at the event, publicised its annual migration trend report. 

Addressing the online event, eminent lawyer and human rights activist Dr Shahdeen Malik said: “This is the time to act more effectively. To fight the worst impacts of the pandemic. And to save this [migration] sector from the negative effects of the pandemic in the near future.” 

Meanwhile, Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad expressed his satisfaction over the visible increase of remittance inflow in the first five months of FY2020-21.  He mentioned the prime minister’s move for providing a 2% incentive as being behind the recent remittance growth. 

Agreeing with him, Prof Dr Tasneem Siddiqui, founder-chairperson of the RMMRU, while presenting the annual report, said: “The World Bank in its projection said that Bangladesh would lose in remittance by 22% while for South Asia that figure would be 20%, forced by the pandemic.

“But defying this projection, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal have observed an upward trend.” 

“In Bangladesh, this trend was seen till March, and then it paused for a while. After August, remittance inflow again started to pick up.”

According to government data, a total of 326,758 expatriates were deported to Bangladesh, starting from April till the end of November, while some 100,000 to 150,000 migrant workers could not return to their workplaces due to the imposition of worldwide travel restrictions in light of Covid-19. 

With roughly 71% less migration happening in 2020 compared to previous years due to coronavirus, remittance flow is expected to drop next year as it takes at least 12 months to get a clear picture of the changes, added Prof Dr Tasneem Siddiqui.

‘Each deported Bangladeshi had to leave around Tk175,000 behind’

As per data provided by the government, remittance flow increased by some 11% in the first five months than in the same period of the previous fiscal year. 

“Receiving more money does not mean that all is well with the migrant workers,” Prof Tasneem Siddiqui added.   

She said: “Many migrant workers who were deported had valid passports. Besides, it has been learned that many could not seek health care as they entered their respective countries illegally.”

As many as 70,000 migrant workers had been infected with the deadly virus till July and some 2,330 migrant workers died from the infection.

In Singapore, more than half of those infected are migrant workers and of them, 45% are Bangladeshis. In many countries, like KSA, Bangladeshi migrants are more prone to die from Covid-19 than others, she added.

She said: “In a recent research study we found that some 57% families were solely dependent on remittance. Among them, 39% received remittances from their family members working abroad during the pandemic.” 

“A large number of migrant workers told us that they were forcibly deported and they weren’t even allowed to bring back their belongings or arrears. This totals to Tk175,000 on average,” she said. 

Low interest or no interest loans for migrants 

RMMRU has recommended that the loans that the government is going to issue as an effort to ease the challenges faced by expatriates be of very low or no interest.

“The migrants, when they returned amid the pandemic, were treated as threats whereas their return should have been handled in a more sophisticated way.

“This resulted in their getting humiliated,” the RMMRU founder chair said. 

Scores were arrested by the law enforcement agencies, she said, adding, “These kinds of incidents damage the morale of the migrant workers,” 

She said: “The Bangladesh government also, unfortunately, did nothing for the expatriates. Some NGOs offered some help but that was not enough.” 

Prof Siddiqui said the only good things that happened this year were the advancement in the process of registration of middlemen under the BMET and the opening of more labour markets in countries such as Romania, Poland, China and Cambodia.

Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), said: “When our RMG sector saw a crisis this year, the country’s economy got a boost from remittance. But those who made it possible were treated in the worst way, especially when it came to health services.” 

Reasons behind the increase in remittance flow:

2% incentive on remittance

Money previously transferred through hundi entering the country through formal channels

Migrants fearing job loss, sending back savings

Significant reduction in gold smuggling

Allowing black money to be made white

RMMRU research findings:

70,000 migrant workers infected and 2,330 dead from Covid-19 till July 

104,786 male and 18,813 female workers went abroad this year

Some 450,000 migrant workers returned or were deported amid the pandemic

Of the migrants infected in Singapore, 45% are Bangladeshis

Bangladeshi migrants are more prone to die from Covid-19   

Migrant workers had to leave behind Tk175,000 on average when deported

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