Not surprisingly, the district also has the second highest number of recruiting agencies in Bangladesh
Some early migrants from Comilla, who have been working in Middle Eastern countries for decades, played a major role in bringing unemployed youths from their homeland to the different countries abroad, generating a stream of inward remittance for Bangladesh.Comilla takes the lion’s share in sending workers abroad, but why?
That remittance also came in the form of investment for many sectors, such as fisheries, in the district which encouraged more youths to pursue work opportunities abroad and invest at home.
Not surprisingly, the district also has the second highest number of recruiting agencies in Bangladesh.
These prime factors indicate why Comilla, a district under Chittagong division, tops the list of highest migrant worker sending districts in Bangladesh in the last 14 years.
Other than that, factors such as poverty and lack of proper job opportunities at home, similar to other districts in the country, also prompted youths to look for opportunities abroad.
According to Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) data, a total of 939,773 people from Comilla district migrated abroad from 2005 to 2019.
Chittagong came second with 715, 548 people employed overseas, while Dhaka was at the fifth position by sending 397,258 migrant workers. Rangamati was at the bottom of the list as only 4,985 people migrated abroad for work over the same period of time.
Dhaka Tribune reached out to respective government bodies and industry insiders to find out why Comilla has been at the top in terms of overseas employment.
“Migration is a trend. People from Comilla were migrating abroad for work for many years and it worked as a pull factor for the potential migrant workers in that district,” Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) Secretary General Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman told Dhaka Tribune.
Having friends or family members overseas creates more opportunities for people in Comilla, which also created a boom in recruiting agencies in the district.
With over 300 recruiting agencies, Comilla has the second highest number of recruiting agencies in Bangladesh. Noakhali district tops in the list with more than 600 recruiting agencies.
The BAIRA secretary general said the majority of migrant workers from Comilla went to the Middle East and till date, gulf countries remain the most popular destination for them.
Poverty and lack of job opportunity
Firoz Mahmud Toslim, who is working in Saudi Arabia (KSA), said he chose to work abroad to take care of his family financially after his father’s death.
“Whatever the difficulties are abroad, it is a good way to support the family financially in a short period of time. Also, they do evaluate performances properly,” he said.
According to him, many migrants from the district came to the Middle East to support their families to break free from poverty.
Shahadat Hossain, also working in KSA, said the lack of employment opportunities in Bangladesh was a key reason as people do not get their desired jobs as per their qualifications.
“I came here because of a lack of a good job at home and to financially support my family,” he said.
Shahab Uddin, working in Oman, said people from all countries come abroad for poverty alleviation, lack of employment, and to support their families quickly.
He, however, said it is common for all districts, not only for Comilla.
Bringing people abroad from own district a common trait
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, BMET Director General Md Shamsul Alam said that like any other industry, the manpower export sector is an industry built on public demand.
“Needless to say that people from Comilla who have already settled down in a foreign country will try to pull more people from their own district,” he said.
Since more people have already migrated from Comilla, their friends, immediate family and distant family members tend more to migrate for work.
A recent survey, conducted by International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Bangladesh, found that most of the potential migrants get help with their migration arrangements from their friends who are already living in the intended destination countries.
A total of 60% of them said their friends supported them with their migration arrangements and 25% of them said their family members supported them with the migration arrangements, the study found.
When asked if the government was working to run campaigns to promote migration from areas where the number remains low, BMET DG said the government has been trying to encourage people to start recruiting agencies in these respective districts.
“There are some areas where we get too many requests [to open a recruiting agency] from. On the contrary, there are some areas where we are struggling to find people interested in this business,” he said.
Marina Sultana, director (program) of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, told Dhaka Tribune that Comilla has a large fishing industry which also creates opportunities for returnees and migrant workers to invest their earnings on.
"Migrant workers from Comilla can make money in a short period of time while working abroad and invest the money in the fishing business," she said.