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OP-ED: Is anyone listening?

  • Published at 01:25 pm August 7th, 2020

We haven’t done enough to protect our migrant workers

In Bangladesh, foreign remittance is one of the driving forces of our economy. According to the data of the International Organization of Migration (IOM), remittance accounts for 7.24% of Bangladesh’s GDP. 

That means one of the biggest sources of foreign currency for Bangladesh is the hard-earned money sent home by millions of migrant workers. Bangladesh got $15.5 billion in remittance in 2018 according to the World Bank. 

Every year a large number of people leave the country to try their luck. many among them return, but some return in coffins. 

Last year was a year of deaths, suicides, abuse, and expulsion for Bangladeshi migrant workers. In 2019, according to the data of the government, 3,658 Bangladeshi migrant workers’ dead bodies were returned home from various countries. 

However, according to the BRAC Migration program, 3,838 migrant workers’ dead bodies were sent back to Bangladesh till November which is the highest number of dead bodies in a single year. In 2005, the number was just 1,248. 

The harsh picture of female migrant workers from Bangladesh in Saudi Arabia began to be widely visible when several workers returned to Bangladesh with horrific stories. They claimed to have faced a range of problems in the destination countries, including physical torture and sexual abuse. 

In 2019, from Saudi Arabia, 1,250 female migrant workers returned to Bangladesh according to the BRAC Migration program and, according to their data, 129 women were brought home dead which included 24 who had committed suicide. 

After investigation by the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare & Overseas Employment, of the 111 cases of returning female workers in August of the year 2019, 35% of them were sufferers of sexual and physical abuse, while 43% got irregular wages. 

That report also distinguished 11 fundamental reasons why Bangladeshi migrant women escaped their workplace, including physical and sexual abuse, inadequate food, no leave, and irregular salaries from their employers.  

In our country, there are no statistics for dead workers buried overseas. Most of the dead workers were below 50. Bangladesh has more than 12 million migrant workers, mostly employed in the Middle East, with 2.3 million in the UAE alone, according to the data of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training, or BMET. 

Besides the country’s burgeoning $25bn garment industry, remittance sent by migrant workers makes a vital contribution to the country’s coffers. Most sufferers are those people who contribute the most to our economy.

As a state party to the International Convention on the Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, 1990, the government of Bangladesh should secure the rights of migrants and their families through different legal means. 

Bangladesh has also ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, 1990. And to ensure better condition of the migrant workers, the government has passed the Overseas Employment and Migrants Act 2013. 

Acknowledging both as a worker and human, migrant rights have been described as human rights and both the host and source countries must ensure the rights of all migrants irrespective of gender, race, and ethnicity.

The government tries its part to overcome this, but the activities of human rights organizations should be strengthened in this regard. There are many human rights organizations but the question of the efficiency of their services remains as important as ever. 

And it is not the case that emigrant workers face just one problem; many foreign workers, despite their profession, face many problems related to their different duties, such as legalization procedure, passport renewal, general wage discrimination, withholding of laborers rights, security coverage, petitions relating to accidents, etc. 

A huge number of emigrants continue to be imprisoned for many years around the world without committing any serious crime and, at the moment, many emigrant workers of our country are now on leave without pay because of the lockdown imposed as a result of the pandemic. 

Is there a proper policy or strategy for foreign workers? Is there anyone who will listen to their cries of pain?

Md Fahmedul Islam Dewan is a student of law.

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