Ever since Saudi Arabia declared it would resume importing manpower from Bangladesh, a large number of interested candidates have been queuing up at the District Employment and Manpower Office (DEMO) in Khulna.
Given the overwhelming response from Bangladeshi job seekers, the Bangladesh government decided to expand the registration facility to the union level. The decision however is yet to be implemented, adding to the harassment and suffering of the aspiring migrant workers.
Khulna manpower office began registration on February 9 and since then a total of 4,124 applications have been submitted till yesterday. But only 96 applications have been registered with the system so far, creating a huge backlog..
This has also led to new avenues of corruption where government officials and brokers are accused of profiting by selling application forms and charging extra for pay orders.
Applicants said it would have been much easier and less costly if the service was available at the union information centres.
Anwar Hossain, a resident of Amadi union of Koyra upazila, said: “The district Sadar is 120 kilometres away from my union. Hence it is not possible for me to travel that far. It would have been easier if I could get the facility in my union.”
Ahsan Habib, an entrepreneur from Pankhali union information centre of Dakop upazila, said people had been coming to him for registration but he had been sending them to the district, since he received no order to register aspiring migrant workers.
The same sentiment was expressed by Pratima Mandal of Lata union in Paikgachha upazila.
Assistant Commissioner (ICT) of Khulna Md Ashik-un-Nabi Talukdar said: “We received a letter with a directive to carry on the registration process at the union level. We will soon notify them about the procedure.”
A visit to the District Employment and Manpower Office in Khulna found rampant harassment by brokers, who have been charging extra money to prepare pay orders and application forms.
Though the forms are being distributed for free, DEMO officials have been selling them for Tk10-Tk50 each. MLSS of the office, Beauty Akter, said they were selling the forms as directed by their senior officials.
A number of brokers were seen busy filling up forms by setting up chairs and tables around the office premises. They were charging between Tk50-200 for each form. They are also taking Tk50-100 extra for arranging pay orders.
Mostofa Ahmed, a broker at the DEMO premises, claimed he was actually helping people by filling up their applications. And he was happy with whatever money people offered him. “I filled up three forms and earned Tk200. I don’t force people to pay me.”
An applicant from Khulna city’s Tutpara, Ibrahim Hossain, said he came to the office after hearing about free migration to Saudi Arabia. “I was told that only my voter ID card will be required to go to Saudi. But after coming here, they told me I also needed a birth certificate, citizenship certificate, and pay order.”
Subrata Mandal of Bosupara alleged the ward offices were charging Tk250-Tk300 for a birth certificate. And for securing a pay order of Tk150, he had to spend Tk250.
Though the officials were seen collecting applications throughout the day, only 96 applications have been registered so far.
DEMO Computer Operator Shekhor Shil said they were not able to register all of them, as the server was too busy. “So we are collecting applications now and will register them gradually.”
When contacted, Azizur Rahman, deputy assistant director of DEMO, said: “We have been able to process only a small number of applications due to server issues. And the unions could not begin the registration process yet, as there are some technical and procedural complications.” He however could not say what exactly were the limitations.
About the harassment and illegal profitting at the office, he said the office was not selling any forms. “And till February 12, the pay order was Tk150 but from February 15, it has been increased to Tk200.”
He said he would look into the allegations and take steps to make the process easier for aspiring migrant workers.