Are our migrant workers being treated fairly?
Imagine after a long and hectic day of work, you rush to your home for support, reliance, and comfort, only to find out that the very place you call home cannot really provide you with any of that.
How will you feel then? Helpless? Frustrated? Angry? Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers who are keeping the wheel of our economy in motion feel the same way while seeking help at the embassies.
It is encouraging to note that the government agencies, civil society organizations (CSO), and NGOs have been working at different capacities to improve Bangladesh’s labour migration sector. However, existing studies and survey findings clearly point out that lack of awareness among migrants, the capacity of government agencies, and deficiency in the governance of the sector are still the three major contributing factors behind our migrant workers’ despairs abroad.
A recent social media survey by the Institute of Informatics and Development (IID) among migrant workers revealed that many of our workers, regardless of their status, face a wide array of problems at the embassies.
One of the most recurrent complaints our migrant workers have is about the non-cooperative attitude by the embassy officials. Another study by RMMRU revealed that many workers do not feel comfortable talking to the officials at the embassies because of their supercilious behaviour and approach. This clearly indicates that the officials are not well equipped to serve a large number of migrant workers. To alleviate this problem, it is vital to ensure that the embassy officials are rigorously sensitized and trained.
Concurrently, an extensive training module can be introduced to ensure the expertise of the newly appointed officials before deploying them to any foreign mission. In addition to developing administrative and organizational skills, this module should have a focus on boosting the motivation of the officials to provide quality services. Also, to make the embassies more migrant-friendly, official procedures at the embassy should be made simpler. The complaints and monitoring mechanism needs to improve significantly. Integration of ICTs can make a huge difference in this area. For example, well-designed smartphone applications or a web-based complaint management system can considerably make the lives of both migrants and officials of the labour wings a lot easier.
Initiatives can be taken by the government that do not require a large budget. For example, a monthly meeting can be organized with the workers, whether at the embassy office or any other convenient location, such as the local mosque.
Also, since in many cases, female domestic workers do not get the chance to get out and access the embassy, outbound call centres can be set up so the officials can check up on these workers by simply calling at the employers’ residents and directly talking with the workers. Moreover, to aid the workers with immediate needs, there should be a dedicated section at the embassy that will provide the workers in distress with emergency services.
To ensure the sustainability of any positive change, it is essential to establish a functional evaluation mechanism that will boost the accountability of the officials. For example, developing and adopting an IT-based monitoring and evaluation system that allows the embassy officials to upload their regular activities and facilitates easy access to the ministries can increase the accountability of the officials of the labour wings significantly.
However, focusing just on the embassy officials will take us only so far. To ensure effective services, it is essential to establish strong inter-departmental coordination between Foreign Ministry, Expatriate Ministry, and the immigration department.
Although there is an apparent need for increased budgetary allocation for the migration sector, it is also equally important to ensure that the already allocated budget is being utilized properly.
Issues that are being complained about by our migrants reveal the inadequacies embedded in our system. But the good news is, this system is under our very control and to make the lives of our hard-working migrants better, this is where we can improve the most.
Last year, at an IID policy discussion event, members of the government, CSOs, and NGOs discussed the possibility of a model embassy. To improve the current condition and ensure a fairer labour migration, it was recommended that a few model embassies can be set up in the destination countries that focus on providing quality services to our deserving expatriates.
If we want our migrant workers to be treated fairly by others, first, we need to make sure that we are doing our best for them. We need to make sure that we can provide them with a better home, away from home.
Kazi Ferdous Pavel is a Research Associate at the Institute of Informatics and Development (IID).