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Illegal migrant workers finally gain more legitimacy

Bangladesh migrants see progress in legal status

Illegal migrant workers finally gain more legitimacy
Migrant workers prepare to leave Dhaka Airport
Sumon Corraya, Dhaka

July 4, 2012

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For years, hundreds of thousands of migrant Bangladeshis have worked illegally across the world, always struggling for official recognition by their host countries despite their hard work. After facing the threat of abuse, imprisonment and deportation, an increasing number are finally enjoying their new-found legal status in Malaysia, a major destination for Bangladeshi migrant workers, after Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur agreed on a formal legalization process last year. So far this year, more than 267,000 Bangladeshis often working as laborers, nannies, construction workers and on production lines in Malaysia have been given work permits and in some cases even a valid passport. “This means their life and job are secure now,” said Mosharraf Hoassain, who as the minister of labor, employment and expatriates welfare is the man credited with the progress achieved. About 400, 000 Bangladeshis are currently employed legally in Malaysia with a further 300,000 expected to head there in the future. There are more than eight million Bangladeshi migrant workers employed in almost every country in the world, with up to two million more working illegally, according to official figures. Saudi Arabia is the temporary home to the vast majority, employing two million Bangladeshis. Altogether these migrants remit US$23.71 million back to Bangladesh, said Abdul Latif Khan, an official from the Manpower, Employment and Training Bureau. Efforts are underway to legalize the millions that remain undocumented and vulnerable abroad, say officials, with many subject to abuse for not holding the appropriate paperwork. Their status also means they are paid poorly and often become the victims of people smugglers. This has created a vicious cycle in which unskilled workers are attracted to jobs, receiving little in the way of support or training, with conditions rarely improving. Nazmul Haque, another official at the Manpower, Employment and Training Bureau, said that the government is working to offer skills development training before allowing workers to head overseas. “During training we also help them learn about culture and the laws of the country they intend to go to, making sure they are not abused or exploited,” he said. Last year, the department trained more than 65,000 people, 60 percent of which have already started sending money home, added Haque. With some 160 million people in a cramped country, there is no shortage of workers looking to head overseas for wages that are often higher, whether the employment is skilled or unskilled. Rahima Begum, a Muslim woman from Chittagong in the east of the country, is among the many migrant workers that have left and made money with few qualifications. “I used to work as a housemaid in Dhaka and earned 1,200 taka ($15) every month,” she said. “I’ve been doing the same job in Kuwait and earn 28,000 taka ($341) per month which was impossible in Bangladesh.”
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