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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

STRUGGLES OF MIGRANT WORKERS

Women workers afraid of going abroad as undesirable incidents rise

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

Update : 18 Mar 2024, 02:50 PM

The trend of women's employment abroad had increased steadily over the years until last year, when it experienced an unexpected decline. Experts in the immigration sector attribute this decline to several factors, notably the rising incidents of mistreatment from their employers. 

In 2022, a total of 105,466 women workers went abroad, whereas in 2023, this number decreased to 77,263, indicating a drop of approximately 28,000 from the previous year.

One major issue highlighted is the practice of sending women without giving them proper training, which has led to various challenges and instances of abuse. Many women return to their home country due to unfavourable conditions, including instances of torture. These challenges have contributed to a reluctance among potential workers and a decrease in the overall number of women being sent abroad.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET), the highest number of women workers going abroad was 121,925 in 2017. It was 118,088 in 2016.

The BMET data reveals that the trend of sending over 100,000 women workers abroad annually persisted until 2019. 

However, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, there was a decline, followed by a slow increase in the subsequent years until 2022, when the number crossed the 100,000-mark. Nevertheless, there was a notable decrease last year.

Since 1991, Bangladesh has been sending women workers to various countries, with Saudi Arabia being a prominent destination. Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 when Indonesia and the Philippines stopped sending domestic workers there due to allegations of torture.

However, with the increase in the number of workers, there has been a corresponding rise in complaints ranging from sickness and homesickness to instances of abuse, both physical and sexual.

Abul Bashar, president of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said that there is negative publicity surrounding women workers in the country, leading to hesitancy among potential recruits.

"Additionally, Saudi employers want workers urgently once they make their demands. However, due to various issues, we are unable to fulfil their request, which leads them to seek workers from alternative sources in other countries," he said.

Organizations like Brac are actively engaged in providing assistance to expatriate women who have returned to Bangladesh, often due to abuse suffered while working abroad. 

They say cases of domestic workers returning home after facing mistreatment from their employers remain prevalent. As the work environment remains unsafe, many female workers are forced to return every month.

Despite the challenges, there is a lack of accountability for returned workers within government agencies.

However, those who have lost their passports and returned with outpasses (valid travel permits) are monitored by the Expatriate Welfare Desk of the Wage Earns Welfare Board. 

According to their records, a total of 86,621 workers returned empty-handed from various countries last year. Among them, 2,902 were women workers, and specifically, 249 women returned in December alone.

Salma Ali, president of the Bangladesh Women Lawyers Association, raised a crucial point by saying: "A woman worker should not face exploitation or deception when going abroad. Instead of solely focusing on the workers themselves, there should be greater emphasis on holding destination countries accountable to prevent such occurrences. The foreign ministry should address these concerns and find solutions. These issues require serious discussion and action. Furthermore, it's essential to ensure support for women workers even after they return to the country."

She also highlighted a significant gap in the current immigration law, noting that while recent amendments have been made, there is a glaring absence of specific provisions for the protection of women. 

“As a result, despite the overall rise in the outflow of workers abroad, the number of women seeking employment overseas is dwindling in proportion,” Salma Ali pointed out.

In this regard, BMET Director General Saleh Ahmad Mozaffar told Dhaka Tribune: “Domestic workers are abused in the country as well. There are also communication barriers while working abroad. That is why we are putting an emphasis on training.

“There is a tendency among recruiting agencies to send employees overseas without training. Except for Saudi Arabia, no other country wants to hire unskilled domestic workers,” he added.

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