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Labor groups demand better protection for a vital human resource

Migrant workers: a valuable asset commonly abused

  • ucanews.com reporters, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • December 19, 2012
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Remittances from expatriate workers comprise billions of the country’s GDP, but too often overseas employees face physical, mental and sexual abuse, poor salaries and harsh working conditions and accommodation.

To commemorate International Migrant Workers Day yesterday, hundreds gathered in rallies and panel discussions to call on authorities to better protect migrant workers.

About eight million expatriates remit over US$12 billion annually, placing Bangladesh seventh in manpower export.  Remittances account for 12 percent of country’s GDP and more than seven times the total foreign direct investment.

Most of the expatriates work in Middle East countries. Saudi Arabia is the largest employer with around two million Bangladeshi workers.

Sohagi Begum, a 25-year-old Muslim woman, says she was cheated and abused by recruiting agents and her overseas employer. Earlier this year, she was sent to Dubai as a housemaid, but was forced to become a sex worker.

“After a few days of work my employer and his driver raped me over and over. I was going to complain to the police, but they tried to kill me by pushing me from a rooftop of a three-story building, but I didn’t die,” she said.

She escaped to the Bangladesh embassy in Dubai with help of another Bangladeshi worker. “I returned home empty handed and filed a case against the recruiting agency. It is still going on.”

Hafizuddin Mian, 42, said his family lost contact with his younger brother after he landed in Saudi Arabia.

“We tried to connect with him but failed. Three months later his dead body was returned to Bangladesh. We don’t know how he died or if he was killed,” said Mian. He added that soon after the incident the agency’s office in Dhaka closed down.

Joynul Abedin, head of the Bangladesh Migrants Foundation, a rights forum for expatriate migrant workers said, “Some unscrupulous recruiting agencies make false promises to workers, collect huge amounts of money and send them overseas, where they become subject to exploitation.” He added that the government is not doing enough to monitor activities of recruiting agencies in order to protect workers from abuse.

Ali Haider Chowdhury, secretary of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies, said that about 500,000 Bangladeshis go overseas as workers annually and admitted some agencies might not work properly.

“Some agencies are to be blamed for mistreatment of workers. If they are enlisted with us, we will also take action against them,” he said.

Sylvia Islam, a deputy director from Manpower, Employment and Training Bureau, says the government is much more serious about migrant workers today and they have cancelled the licenses of some agencies over allegations of abuse.

“We are serious about the rights of migrant workers because we know they play a vital role for the country. The problem is most abused workers don’t come to us to complain after they return home,” she said.

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