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OP-ED: It’s time to end the procession of death from the Middle East

  • Published at 10:51 pm November 3rd, 2020
female migrant workers Saudi Arabia tRajib Dhar
Photo: Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Fraudulent recruiting agencies must be brought to book

Four hundred and seventy-three women migrant workers dead in four years since 2016, many gruesomely tortured to death: This is the reality for a lot of Bangladeshis being sent to Gulf countries as domestic help. In the case of Nodi, a 13-year-old who was sent to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, her age was falsely reported as 27.

The recruiting agency denied to take any responsibility for her, after she had gone to the KSA and complained about the way she was being treated. Her family reached out to the recruiting agency time and again in hopes of help, but they did nothing. Now, Nodi is dead, and her family could only receive her dead body from the airport. Nodi didn’t receive any wages for the time she spent working in the household in the KSA.

This story is far too common for a lot of Bangladeshi workers. Falsely reporting their age in the passport listings, being mistreated by the recruiting agencies, and then being brutally tortured by their masters at their workplace becomes their fate. But the government does not seem to care in the least about what is happening to Bangladeshi workers abroad.

Last year, around this time, processions and demonstrations were organized by various rights organizations along with Muktiforum, with demands of putting an end to the tortures and deaths in the foreign land of Bangladeshi workers. There were demands of nationalizing the worker-sending program and eliminating fraud recruiting agencies, but nothing was done. This has abetted the continuous flow of dead bodies from the Gulf countries where the domestic helps are either tortured to death or forced to commit suicide.

Firstly, the problem lies with the recruiting agencies. The recruiting agencies have a lot of leverage with the migrant workers because they usually come from lower socioeconomic strata and are desperate to find their way into financial wellbeing, and that means going abroad for some work. Using this leverage, the recruiting agencies send them to Middle Eastern countries where human rights laws are not the strongest, and even intimidate the families of the migrant worker into submission. That is what has happened in the case of Nodi. When the family contacted the recruiting agency, they were met with threats.

The recruiting agency might even be linked with the passport office that is helping them produce passports that falsify the age of the worker. In Nodi’s case, the passport was falsified to show that she was 27 years old, while she was only 13. The owner of the recruiting agency has been arrested, and we hope that some answers are found to these questions and the responsible people are brought to justice.

The suicides that are being shown in the tally are not believable either. The families of the workers say that these suicides are not suicides at all. They say that the workers are tortured so much that they choose suicide as a way of escape. There are also allegations that murders by torture are reported as suicides, as torture signs can be seen on the bodies of the victims.

In these circumstances, we need to take emergency steps to curtail the number of dead bodies that arrive from the Middle Eastern countries. The recruiting agencies must be brought to book, the worker-sending program must be nationalized, and the employers of the migrant workers need to be vetted. Also, the embassies in the Middle Eastern countries need to be more responsive in order to take action when there are allegations of torture, so that nobody has to die of torture even after reporting to the local embassy.

Anupam Debashis Roy is a writer and researcher. He can be reached at [email protected]