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No rest for the migrants

  • Published at 12:33 am July 23rd, 2019
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Many migrant workers return to their homeland after years of servitude, thinking they will make it big. However, upon return they find themselves incompatible to the changing circumstances Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Seven months after returning home in early December 2018, 49-year old Abul Kalam of Amin Bazar discovered there was no work for him here nor could he invest money to start a business. He has no choice but to go abroad again to make a living. This is the first of a five-part series on Bangladeshi workers who returned home

Finding no alternative, Abul Kalam Azad Habul, a migrant worker who had returned home to Bangladesh, decided to return to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), his previous workplace. 

Seven months after returning home, in early December 2018, 49-year old Abul Kalam Habul discovered there was nothing for him in the country by way of investment or work, leaving him no choice but to go abroad again to make a living. 

He was perplexed about his future in the country, when he found no reliable and secure jobs in the country. 

Overwhelmed by terrible experiences during his  seven-month stay in his home country of Bangladesh, Abul Kalam said: “I have to bring enough money so that if I fail once I can have an alternative. There is no one who can help me out in this regard.” Relatives and neighbors supported him when he went overseas, but no one stood by him after he returned.

Habul's wife Jannatul Rina, 40, says she doesn’t know if her husband can ever settle in the country. she wishes he settles into any trade and can leave his migrant worker life behind. “Many of my neighbors and relatives died working overseas, but I want him to die here. He will at least die in peace,” she lamented.

County’s scenario

Habul’s case is not unique to our country. Returning home has always been a painful issue for a migrant. All local families in three unions of Amin Bazar, Kaundia, and Vakurta unions in Savar, have at least one migrant worker in one of three family generations. 

Once a person goes abroad for employment from these areas, he is reluctant to return home, say the chairmen of these three unions.  

A big chunk of the money earned by returning migrants is spent on family expenses. Most of them build a multi- storey building to rent out and save some money for future expenses like  marriage of their daughters, or to send their boys abroad.   

 Amin Bazar union Chairman Anwarul Islam said once they return home, most of them rely on income from house rent. 

When asked about social development or investment in any business that can increase opportunities for other unemployed youths, the chairman replied in the negative.

In several cases the money they brought was not sufficient to run their families indefinitely, yet they are reluctant or unwilling to work here, he added.

Statistics

According to the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas website, 12,486,677 workers have migrated overseas to take up employment since 1976 till May 2019.

But the government has no statistics about the number of migrant workers who have returned. 

Ministry sources said most migrant workers want to go abroad again after they return, but it is difficult to keep track of their records. The returning workers  do not even report to relevant government officials either. 

Several migrant workers returning to Savar said they did not know if they had to report to the government or inform them when they go abroad again.

Mizanur Rahman of Mirpur said after returning home from overseas he neither found a job, nor a rehabilitation centre, nor any place that would provide him market knowledge to invest money to start a small business. 

Rafiqul Islam of Kaundia said if the government offers nothing then why waste time drawing their attention. 

Govt lacks data on returning migrant workers

Independent migration expert Asif Munier said, currently the Special Branch of Bangladesh Police is keeping records of workers who go abroad or return legally, while the Expatriates’ Ministry keeps records  of those deported by receiving countries.       

Head of Brac Migration program, Shariful Islam Hasan, said the country has no data on migrants who returned, when it is essential and should have been initiated much earlier. 

On an average, some 50,000 migrants returned home after being deported by the receiving country but there is no data of legally returned migrants or any kind of facilities for them.

Migration expert Asif Munier also said there is no such sector in the country where returning migrant workers can use the skills and experience they acquired abroad. 

Nazmul Ahsan, chairman of the Bangladesh Ovibasi Adhikar Forum (BOAF) said, although expatriates are one of the major sources of foreign exchange remittances to the country, the sector gets a very nominal budget allocation in the annual national budget. 

The ministry has several plans for people who want to go abroad for employment, but nothing like that for returning migrant workers on its website. 

Facilities for deported migrants 

International Organization for Migration Deputy Chief of Mission (Development), Dimanche Sharon, said IOM and Brac collaborate to provide immediate assistance to deported migrants such as cash grants, emergency medical support, counseling, access to drop-in centres for assistance with food and temporary accommodation. 

They also extend support to deported migrants with market knowledge, jobs, social integration, and awareness programs, support their families through community and stakeholder orientations, and facilitate economic reintegration. 

Marina Sultana, director (Program) of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), said the budget reflects what government is prioritizing. 

"This budget does not reflect anything about economic reintegration, healthcare, and the overall welfare of returning and migrant workers."

Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP) Chairman Sharikul Islam said: “It is unfortunate that expatriates are not getting their due importance.

"We had recommended allocation of at least 2% of the ($15 billion) remittance earnings this year for the welfare program. Instead, the ministry's budget allocation was reduced."

This year’s budget allocation for the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment has gone down from Tk596 crore to Tk591 crore.

There is nothing for returning migrants in the budget, OKUP Chairman Alam added.