Migrant workers need all the support they can get
Every year, nearly 1 million people migrate from Bangladesh for work. They contribute a significant amount of over $15 billion in remittances to Bangladesh. While some fortunate migrants have a positive experience, regrettably many, particularly those who are low-skilled, face inordinate challenges, exploitation, and abuse at every stage of their journey.
To facilitate and empower Bangladeshi migrants, there is a need to develop the capacities of migration service providers, ensure service accessibility, affordability and transparency, and raise the knowledge and awareness of such services.
In order to understand the gaps more deeply, let’s examine the four broad stages in a migration cycle and some of the risks that migrants face therein.
At this stage, potential migrants are generally unemployed, living in poverty, perhaps displaced and desperately looking for livelihood opportunities. Many are willing to, and often do, take extreme measures to support the migration costs like incurring huge debts or selling off their land or other assets. IOM -- UN migration agency’s survey has found that 18% of potential migrants are willing to even give up an organ in order to fund their dream of migrating.
Despite their eagerness to migrate, potential migrants often do very little legit research. They do not know where to go, the job market prospects that might await them there, the skills they require or even the process of obtaining the proper paperwork to get there.
Many potential migrants rely completely on word-of-mouth from friends or relatives. Unfortunately, that is a very unreliable source of information because migrants abroad often send home masked or inaccurate information to spare their families the horror and the pain of knowing the truth, without realizing its adverse effects.
The government has undertaken several initiatives to address this information gap, including the establishment of District Employment and Manpower Offices where people can get the information they need. However, due to a lack of requisite human resources and technologies, it is challenging for these government entities to operate on their desired scale.
While many international organizations and NGOs are supporting the government at varying capacities but it’s still merely a drop in the ocean compared to the quantum of needs of the masses.
At this stage, the migrants have decided to take the leap and are trying to secure the finances and necessary paperwork. Additionally, the migrants need information about the living conditions at the destination country, a good understanding of employment terms, the right skills including language training and access to essential support services. By providing all this, good pre-departure services may thus ensure safe and orderly migration.
Unlike Bangladesh, a number of countries in Asia have imposed mandatory pre-departure orientation to protect migrants’ rights. In Nepal, migrants are referred to counsellors when applying for passports to learn the processes and risks involved with migration.
The system can also benefit from built-in monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that assess both immediate and long-term impacts. For example, Canada and Austria conduct regular follow-up surveys with landed immigrants.
Although pre-departure orientation and provision of information are essential for protecting the rights of migrant workers, they are not enough on their own, thus highlighting the need for post-arrival orientation at the destination country.
Such orientations should be structured and facilitated by the host countries or embassies and consulates of the country of origin. This will help reinforce the information migrants received during their pre-departure training.
Employers should also provide workplace specific post-arrival orientation to newly arrived migrant workers. The information should provide an overview of the workplace and work practices -- and convey industry-specific training, including standard occupational health and safety training as part of their orientation to help the workers adapt to their new working environment.
It’s important to remember that a lack of workplace ethics, information, and challenging living conditions may lead to disastrous consequences like migrants to take irregular pathways, where death often becomes the ultimate fate.
Bangladeshi migrants are among the most vulnerable abroad. This is due to the lack of protective bilateral agreements and MoUs in place to protect our migrants. While countries like India have instituted minimum wages for its citizens and banned migration of its women to highly vulnerable locations, Bangladesh continues to compete on wages, racing to the bottom to offer the cheapest labour for the most dangerous, dirty and difficult jobs. As a result, our migrants are exposed to the greatest risks and violations of labour laws.
Return and re-integration
Europe has long been a favoured destination for irregular migrants. However, migrants who have overstayed their visas are promptly being returned to Bangladesh. In such cases, it is prudent and effective to have re-integration services such as social, economic and psychosocial support ready to be deployed.
Close cooperation with local partners is necessary to include re-integration assistance within existing migration development initiatives, avoid duplication, and respond to local needs. Successful re-integration is highly dependent on the opportunities to develop income-generating activities, access to social networks and psychosocial health.
Needless to say, if a returnee lacks economic self-sufficiency, family and community ties, and harbours feelings of shame, failure, and anxiety, it may hinder the reintegration process. A case management approach could be considered to follow up on migrants’ experiences post-arrival.
On the whole, migration should be seen as a multi stakeholder driven process where the roles of everyone -- private and public sector, the international community and media -- are crucial.
Coordination mechanisms should be defined in cooperation agreements with clearly specified roles and responsibilities.
Chowdhury Asif Mahmud Bin Harun is a National Communications Officer at IOM Dhaka. Radhika Tabrez is an editor at IOM Dhaka. Shazia Omar is an activist and writer.