Helping our migrant workers ease back into society
Return and reintegration of migrant workers are equally significant to the other two stages of migration -- pre-departure and on-sight.
Having a huge surplus workforce in the country, outmigration always gets priority over the issue of sustainable reintegration. As the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the acceleration of forced return of a huge number of migrant workers, and put a complete pause to outmigration and remigration, the issue of reintegration has been highlighted with due importance.
The government of Bangladesh included clear provisions for social and economic reintegration of returnee migrant workers, their families, and children in the laws and policies adopted in the last 10 years. The Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Policy (OEP) 2016 was intended to increase the budget, develop social protection policies and a framework for the welfare of returnee migrants, as well as their reintegration through employment and rehabilitation programs.
The Wage Earners Welfare Act 2018 mentions undertaking projects and programs for social and economic reintegration of returnee migrant workers, and particularly for returnee women migrant workers.
The Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment (MoEWOE) has taken different initiatives to recognize the skills of returnee migrant workers, and provide loans through the Prabashi Kallayan Bank, or welfare support to returnees in dire need.
Despite all policy measures and actions so far from the government, the sustainable reintegration of returnee migrant workers is a grave concern.
The returnee migrant workers are often blamed for not being interested in skills training, loans provided by the Probashi Kallayan Bank, and so on. However, there is rarely investigation on the migrant workers’ challenges in their efforts of reintegration, the mismatch between the needs of migrant workers, and the available support mechanism in place.
OKUP, a grassroots migrant organization, published a research study recently. The study tried to understand the opportunities and challenges of returnee migrant workers in sustainable reintegration. The research showed that every individual returnee migrant worker returns with an individual level of experience, skill, and economic status. 250 returnee migrant workers from five migration-prone districts in Bangladesh -- Comilla, Faridpur, Munshiganj, Narsingdi, Narayanganj participated in the research. Of them, 40% of returnee migrant workers consider themselves as “successful” migrants, either having improved living standards (29%), with savings of remittances (35%), and with certain skills (36%). 60% of returnee migrant workers consider their migration “unsuccessful,” as around 50% return as victims of fraud recruitment, 40% return with unpaid loans they took for migration, and 10% return after surviving abuse or exploitation, or a violation of their rights.
On such a diversified pattern of return, migrant workers need varied support and assistance for reintegration. For example, the migrant workers who return with skills require proper counselling and effective referrals for either job placement or self-employment, with assistance in business planning, entrepreneurship training, and easy access to soft loans. Migrant workers who return as survivors of exploitation in any stage of migration require services like counselling, health treatment, legal aid, and life skill training for reintegrating into family and society first, before assistance in economic reintegration.
OKUP research recommended to establish a Reintegration Service Center (RSC) for the returnee Bangladeshi migrant workers under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment. The RSC should have a comprehensive package of services for both social and economic reintegration which might include psychosocial components as well as livelihood components.
The psychosocial components must have a range of services, especially for the vulnerable and survivor returnees, including airport transfer, safe house services, psychosocial counselling and treatment, heath treatment, legal aid, life skills training, etc.
The RSC needs to be established at the district level with its outreach facilities at upazila and union level. The study also recommended the inclusion of vulnerable returnee migrant workers, especially women, in the National Social Safety Net program for a certain period of time upon return.
Different government entities, NGOs, and non-government service provider organizations already have different support and services in place. Therefore, it is important to enhance referral cooperation among service provider organizations both in government and in the non-government sector for comprehensive support for returnee migrant workers, and their families.
We must recognize that a one-size-fits-all policy is not an appropriate approach for sustainable reintegration of the returnee migrant workers. Sustainable reintegration must depend on need-based support and services, and thus, be tailor-made for each individual returnee migrant worker.
Shakirul Islam is a researcher, migrant activist, and founding chair of OKUP, a grassroots migrants’ organization.