A total of 64 bodies of female migrant workers were sent to Bangladesh from different countries between January and September
The body of a female migrant worker Manjuara, whose family could not contact her for several months, was sent back to Bangladesh from Saudi Arabia on September 3.
All Manjuara’s family got to know from a phone call from another Bangladeshi immigrant that she fell sick, fought for her life and later died in a hospital. However, when the body arrived in a coffin, they noticed that few of her teeth were broken and there was a gash in her lips.
Manjuara went to Saudi Arabia in 2018. She used to call her family from her employer’s house and asked them to bring her back to Bangladesh, Manjuara’s nephew Mahfuz Rana told Dhaka Tribune.
“She said a woman in that house bangs her head on walls and she cannot take the torture anymore,” he added.
Shariful Hasan, head of the Brac Migration Program, said after analyzing the data from Expatriate Welfare Desk at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka-- 22 female migrant workers died in Saudi Arabia, 14 died in Lebanon, 11 in Jordan, seven in Oman, and four in the United Arab Emirates this year.
In total, 473 bodies of female migrants were sent to Bangladesh from 2016 to September, 2020 while 175 of them were from Saudi Arabia, he added.
As per Wage Earners' Welfare Board data, a total of 64 bodies of female migrant workers were sent to Bangladesh from different countries between January and September this year.
No alternative of being more vigilant
The Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia should be the first one to report the violence to that country’s police if any woman comes to them with complaints of any sort of violence, said Shariful.
“From our end, there is no alternative to be more vigilant about sending female migrant workers abroad. How is it possible that not a single person from BMET (Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training), immigration, passport office or employer’s family noticed that an underage girl has been illegally sent to work?” he questioned.
On October 30, Nodi, a 13-year-old migrant worker’s body was sent to Bangladesh although the minimum age required for women to go to Saudi Arabia is 25.
Nodi had allegedly committed suicide, but her family claims that she was either murdered or forced to commit suicide to escape from the brutality of her employers.
Some women survive but come back home with gnawing memories of sexual abuse, assault, torture, and rape, like Tania Akter.
Tania, 20, wanted to provide a good life to her four-year-old son, which she never had. However, that was next to impossible with the small amount of money her husband earned every month.
Like many other underprivileged women in Bangladesh, Tania thought heading to Saudi Arabia would be a viable option to contribute to her family. But her life turned upside down when she started working as a house maid in Saudi Arabia in 2018.
As per a report, published by Brac in 2019, Tania called up her husband and said the owner of the house and his son tries to rape her together. If she says no, both of them beat her up brutally.
A total of 2,315 female migrant workers returned from Saudi Arabia between 2018 and 2019 and most of them reported some sort of sexual, physical and mental violence by their employers, according to Brac Migration Program
Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) Executive Director Rokeya Kabir told Dhaka Tribune that a social movement on a massive scale is needed to pressure the authority to protect women from being abused in gulf countries.
“Why is there no question on Saudi Arabia’s stand to employ one woman against two men? More women must cross the border legally to be independent,“ she added.
Rokeya also said: “I see so many people took the street to protest against the government of France. Why do we not see people protesting for Bangladeshi women being tortured, abused, raped and murdered in foreign lands like Saudi Arabia?”
Involvement of recruiting agencies
Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) Secretary General Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman did not deny that some recruiting agencies are responsible for the fate of these women.
“Recruiting agencies should not be blamed for these incidents alone, however, there are some black sheep in this industry,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
“There are a few questions that need to be answered. How did a minor girl complete BMET training without being noticed. Why did nobody in the passport office have suspicions over her age?” he questioned.
The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB-3) arrested two people, including the owner of a recruiting agency MH Trade International based in Dhaka, over the death of Umme Kulsum -- another 14-year-old who was sent to Saudi Arabia as a domestic help and tortured to death by her employers.
Her body was brought back home on September 12.
The law enforcing agencies think if the recruiting agencies do not mend their ways, it would be very difficult to stop these incidents from happening.
RAB-3 Commanding Officer Lt Col Rakibul Hasan told Dhaka Tribune that law enforcing agencies can only intervene in these issues when there is a complaint.
“We cannot really look over the recruiting agencies that are sending people abroad. The recruiting agencies should be more vigilant before sending people, especially women, in different countries,” he added.
Rakibul also told the correspondent that the family members of the victims tend to go to the recruiting agencies for help before coming to the law enforcing agencies.
RAB found in their investigation that Umme Kulsum’s birth certificate was forged by her broker and later he applied for her passport with the fake birth certificate, he added.
Although the law enforcing agencies do not have the human resource to do intensive raids to keep the recruiting agencies in check, Shariful said RAB will continue their raids in some recruiting agencies in Dhaka if they find anything suspicious.