Tuesday, June 25, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Struggles of Migrant Workers: Dreams dashed, health neglected

This is the fourth of an 11-part series on the challenges faced by migrant workers

Update : 19 Mar 2024, 09:00 AM

Rifat Rahman, a resident of Gangutiar in Dhamrai, had a dream to improve his luck and lead a better life. In that pursuit, he ventured to Qatar in hopes of transforming his future. 

However, his aspirations were dashed when he fell seriously ill during his stay. Rushing to a local hospital for treatment, he was delivered a devastating diagnosis: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). 

Expecting support from his organization, Rifat was met with disappointment as it merely arranged for his repatriation, failing to provide the necessary medical care.

Despite spending Tk6 lakh on his journey, Rifat couldn't even recoup half of his investment. Tragically, after returning home, his health deteriorated rapidly, and he eventually succumbed to his illness, deprived of the treatment he desperately needed. 

His story is not unique. Thousands of low-income expatriate workers face a similar fate, returning home with complex diseases only to perish due to neglect and lack of medical attention.

According to the Wage Earners Welfare Board of the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Foreign Employment, the number of workers returning home due to accidents and illnesses has been steadily increasing over the past decade.

A total of 185 workers returned to the country due to accidents and illnesses from 2010 to 2017. In 2018, for the first time, the number exceeded the 100-mark, with 126 individuals returning. Since then, the trend has continued to rise. 

In 2022, the number of ailing migrant returnees was 231. It was 247 in 2021, 231 in 2020, and 310 in 2019. It reached 457 in 2023. 

In total, 1,939 workers have returned home due to illness in the last 13 years, indicating a growing concern for the welfare and safety of expatriate workers.

Debabrata Ghosh, assistant director of the Expatriate Welfare Desk at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, confirmed the alarming frequency of such cases, with approximately 20 workers returning monthly, many suffering from accidents or debilitating conditions like stroke, cancer, and HIV.

He said: "Every month, we encounter these challenges. We promptly extend assistance to affected workers through the Expatriate Welfare Desk. Just last month, we provided financial aid to 66 individuals who found themselves in dire circumstances."

Despite the severity of the situation, there has been no official inquiry into the root causes of these health crises among expatriate workers. 

However, research conducted by organizations like the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) sheds light on the hazardous working and living conditions faced by migrants, including unhygienic environments, pollution, and excessive workloads without adequate safety measures. Moreover, women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, further exacerbating their health risks.

Additionally, medical costs in Middle Eastern countries are high, making low-income workers unable to afford the costs.

Dr Rashid-e-Mahbub, former president of the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA), points out the lack of empathy in medical practices, driven by profit motives. 

“Also, most of the doctors in Middle Eastern countries are from different nationalities. It is difficult to get treatment for expatriates there. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure this,” he said.

He also said: “Expatriates often finance their overseas ventures through loans, leading to mental stress and excessive workloads. This strain raises the risk of heart disease, which increases reliance on painkillers, which in turn increases the likelihood of kidney failure. The state does not care about this. The state only looks at dollars, remittances, and reserves.''

Prof CR Abrar, executive director of RMMRU, said: "It is important to arrange health insurance for expatriates as well so that they can receive health care even if they return home with illness. Some assistance from the Expatriate Welfare Desk is inadequate. The government should come forward in this matter.”

He emphasized the importance of providing health cards alongside work permits to ensure access to treatment.

“But that is not done. As a result, workers remain without treatment due to a lack of knowledge on their part and the indifference of those concerned,” he added.

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