Around 400,000 migrant workers returned home this year, which is four times higher than the usual number of returnees in a year
As in many other sectors, the pandemic caused an unprecedented crisis in the labour migration sector all over the world.
As migrant workers need to fly to host countries to join their workplaces, a huge number of people failed to go to their host countries due to the travel restrictions imposed to arrest the spread of the virus.
Bangladesh, being the sixth largest origin country for international migrants in the world, suffered a heavy blow due to the global health crisis.
Only around 200,000 migrants made it to host countries in 2020, whereas around 700,000 to 800,000 people migrate for work every year. The number of returnees hit a new high as well.
Despite all the setbacks, experts think the sector could be revived if potential migrant workers are trained for the jobs that would be in high demand in a post pandemic world. They also think more diplomatic efforts should be made to revive the sector in 2021.
Almost 8 times higher returnees
Shariful Hasan, head of the Brac Migration Program, said usually around 50,000 migrant workers return every year, but this year around 400,000 migrant workers returned home without any hope of a decent source of income.
“This huge number of returnees need to be employed within the country or we need to ensure a decent livelihood for them,” Hasan told Dhaka Tribune.
Experts think the real challenge in the post pandemic world will be to prepare the potential migrant workers for jobs that will be in high demand.
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Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) told Dhaka Tribune that the skills set by host countries mean they will be looking next year for people related to the health and agriculture sector.
“We need to shift our focus of training. This pandemic has changed priorities for many countries. We need to prepare our potential migrant workers by providing training in these particular fields,” he said.
Travel ban left thousands of migrant workers stranded
As most countries in the world restricted inbound and outbound flights to prevent the spread of coronavirus, migrant workers were left stranded in Bangladesh despite being set to fly to the host countries.
Brac Migration Program Head Shariful Hasan told Dhaka Tribune that to make up for the huge number of migrant workers who could not make it to the host countries in 2020, all stakeholders should work on sending more than one million workers in 2021.
On September 15, Saudi Arabia, a popular destination for migrant workers, announced that it would partially lift its suspension on international flights to allow "exceptional categories" of citizens and residents to travel to it.
Later in September, several hundred Bangladeshi migrant workers staged demonstrations at Karwan Bazar intersection in Dhaka to protest over a failure to get tickets to return to their workplaces in Saudi Arabia.
Remittance, silver lining in a dark cloud
The public health crisis cast a dark shadow on the labour market in 2020. However, remittances were a silver lining in the dark clouds.
Bangladesh received $19.6 billion as remittance during January to November of the current year. This created a new record by surpassing last year’s full-year receipts of $18.3 billion, according to data from the central bank.
Hasan said a significant number of migrant workers returned home this year and probably many others sent money home because of the uncertainty the pandemic had brought to their lives.
“The good thing was the pandemic did not affect remittances as it did the labour market,” he said.
Plight of female migrant workers continues
The plight of female migrant workers remained the same in 2020. More than 60 bodies of female migrant workers were brought back home in 2020.
Two under-aged migrant workers’ deaths shook the migration sector and raised questions about how minors were still crossing borders as migrant workers.
14-year-old Umme Kulsum was tortured to death by her employers. She had been sent to Saudi Arabia as a domestic help. Her body was brought back home on September 12.
Also Read - Never-ending woes of female migrant workers
Again on October 30, the remains of Nodi, another 13-year-old migrant worker, were sent to Bangladesh. 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.
However, Baira Secretary General Noman thinks a few isolated incidents could not mar the image of the whole migration sector.
“It is true that the agencies should be more cautious about sending women for overseas jobs. However, the passport office, Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET), and other government bodies need to be more vigilant about female migrant workers this year,” he said.
Rayhan Kabir stands tall
Individuals like Rayhan Kabir, who was arrested in Malaysia after appearing in an Al Jazeera documentary, was in the headlines for speaking up against the plight of Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia.
Rayhan was featured in the Al Jazeera documentary "Locked Up in Malaysia's Lockdown" that documented the mistreatment of migrants by the Malaysian authorities during the movement control order.
He was arrested on July 24 following a two-week manhunt, after the Immigration Department issued a wanted notice against him.
His work permit was revoked and he was blacklisted from ever entering Malaysia again. Rayhan was deported from Malaysia and finally landed in Bangladesh on August 22.
Rayhan told Dhaka Tribune that this year had led him to a new path. “Now I want to work on the rights of Bangladeshi migrant workers and do everything possible so that they do not face any discrimination or violence anywhere in the world,” he said.