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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

STRUGGLES OF MIGRANT WORKERS

Empty pockets, broken dreams

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

Update : 22 Mar 2024, 10:38 AM

Abu Bakar Siddique from Barisal ventured to Saudi Arabia in October last year after taking a huge loan from a broker, with the promise of securing employment in a hotel. However, upon arrival, he found himself without the promised job and was instead directed to a supply company by the broker.

Unfortunately, he failed the health examination there. Later, he found himself stranded in a desert hideout arranged by the broker for seven days, facing food shortages. 

Eventually, he was compelled to return to his home country empty-handed. Upon his return, Siddique faced the daunting prospect of repaying a debt of four lakh taka.

This narrative echoes a common plight among Bangladeshi workers seeking opportunities in the Middle East. Many invest significant sums through brokers in the hope of securing a better future for their families, only to find themselves back home burdened with debts and dashed dreams. 

Besides, many workers who returned from the Middle East had their passports expire, and many had not had iqama (work permit) either.

Rajan Mia from Chapainawabganj experienced a similar ordeal. He travelled to Saudi Arabia with the promise of work at a farm. He thought he would get a chance to do some other odd jobs in the meantime. But after four months, Rajan realized he would not get his chances of earning some extra money. So he fled home and spent two years living illegally in various locations. 

With no employment prospects, Rajan eventually sought assistance from the embassy to facilitate his return home.

According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), an average of more than 100,000 new workers have been going to different countries every month for two years. 

Despite this journey out of the country, a significant number of migrant workers find themselves returning home without success, unable to secure employment. There are no data available for the exact number of migrants returning home empty handed after investing a large sum of money.

Only those who have lost everything, or face arrest without passports have been accounted for.

The Wage Earners' Welfare Board says that the number of expatriates returning home has increased in the last few months.

According to the board, a total of 80,811 expatriates returned to the country empty handed in 2023. Of them, 78,079 are male. However, it does not keep track of those who have returned with passports in hand. 

Immigration officials suggest that the true extent of failed immigration may be much higher than the reported figures, possibly exceeding 100,000 returnees per year.

In 2019, a staggering 64,438 individuals returned to the country using outpasses. Following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, a significant influx of expatriates returning to the country started. 

While many expatriates return home temporarily for vacation purposes, the majority eventually make their way back abroad. However, there has been a concerning uptick in the number of expatriates who fail to rejoin work, signaling a worrying trend.

According to research conducted by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), the labor market in 2019 saw significant migration trends. 

From 1976 to 2019, a substantial 1.28 million workers migrated abroad in search of employment opportunities. However, the accuracy of this figure remains uncertain as there is no concrete mechanism to decide whether these workers are actively engaged in employment abroad.

There is no process of preserving the data of migrants who return to Bangladesh. As a result, there is no way of knowing how many workers are currently staying abroad.

Stakeholders in the migration sector, including grassroots organizations like Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), have emphasized the need for comprehensive measures to address the root causes of failed migration. 

OKUP President Shakirul Islam said the total number of expatriates who have returned unsuccessfully should be two to three times more than the number who returned without passes.

Ruhul Amin, secretary of the Expatriate Welfare and Foreign Employment Ministry, told Dhaka Tribune that efforts are being made to ensure that not a single worker goes abroad and returns after being cheated.

“The process of sending workers abroad has been made more difficult than before. Work is being done to ensure that the job security of workers is verified before posting,” he added.

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