• Wednesday, May 27, 2020
  • Last Update : 03:20 pm

Coronavirus: Travel bans hit distressed migrant workers hard

  • Published at 03:43 pm March 23rd, 2020
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Approximately one to 1.5 lakh people failed to join their work abroad on time because of travel restrictions

Rafiq Ahmed Khan runs a small shop in one of the most crowded tourist spots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He travelled back to Bangladesh two months ago and now cannot fly back to Malaysia due to travel restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I run a family of five and everything depends on the shop I run in Kuala Lumpur. Only god knows when I will be able to get my business back in good shape,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

He said sales at his store have been plummeting. There was a 50% drop in February, and he estimated that there will be an 80% drop in March as most of the tourist spots in Kuala Lumpur are almost deserted in fear of coronavirus.

There are thousands of other Bangladeshi migrants like Rafiq who are suffering fatal blows because of shutdowns, travel bans, and restrictions in different countries. 

Things are worse for informal workers and people who get paid based on their attendance at work.

A lot of migrant workers in countries like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia do not have a fixed source of income. Some work at construction sites and get paid if the project runs. A shutdown means no work and no pay for these migrant workers.

Also, there are some freshly recruited migrant workers who could not fly to their new jobs due to the recent travel bans around the world.

The Bangladesh government said these workers should not worry as embassies of those countries have assured that they will renew the visa if it expires.

However, there is no solution to the financial crisis migrant workers are dealing with because of this global health crisis.

Rafiq told Dhaka Tribune he would not be able to pay his salespersons because they get paid on their daily attendance.

Munirus Salehin, additional secretary of Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, told Dhaka Tribune that their ministry and the foreign ministry had a meeting with the embassies and they said people who could not fly due to flight suspension need not worry.

“The embassies told us they will renew the expired visas of workers who got stuck abroad and the people who could not fly due to flight suspension,” said the secretary.

When asked about workers who are suffering financial losses, he said at this moment they are not thinking about how to recover from the financial crisis of migrant workers, as he believes the health of migrant workers should be the utmost priority in the middle of this pandemic.

Md Shariful Hasan, programme head of BRAC Migration Programme told Dhaka Tribune that a large number of Bangladeshi migrant workers go to the Middle East on so called “free visas” and do not have fixed jobs.

“Around 15 lakh Bangladeshi migrant workers are working in Saudi Arabia and among them, workers without a fixed income source are in real trouble. If these shutdowns continue for a long time, they will suffer the most,” he said.

The Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) Secretary General, Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, told Dhaka Tribune that approximately one to 1.5 lakh people failed to join their work abroad on time because of the travel restrictions.

“This is an estimated figure. It is difficult to tell how many people are stranded here because of travel restrictions. Migrant workers who returned home and could not fly back are also among these one to 1.5 lakh people,” he said, adding that from January to March 9, a total 1,50,450 people got clearance to be sent abroad this year.

BAIRA Secretary General Noman also criticized people who travelled to Bangladesh from coronavirus affected countries even though they were requested not to.

“What they did was not something a rational person would do. Their families and people who came in close contact with them might be at stake,” he said.

Over 300,000 people have been infected by coronavirus across the world, with around 95,000 of them recovering from the infection. As of Sunday, over 13,000 people had lost their lives globally from the infection that originated in China in late December last year.

In Bangladesh, 27 people were confirmed to be infected with the virus, while 2 of them have died.

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