Bangladeshi migrant workers arrive at Dhaka’s international airport in 2018. Bangladesh is under pressure to take back thousands of migrant workers from five countries. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
Concerns are growing over pressure on Bangladesh from several countries to take back thousands of allegedly undocumented migrant workers.
Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and the Maldives have been urging the Bangladeshi government to repatriate tens of thousands of irregular workers immediately, officials said in a press briefing in capital Dhaka on April 5.
The briefing was held after a meeting attended by Foreign Minister A.K. Abul Momen, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan and Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmed.
Momen said the government would bring back workers after scrutinizing their identities, while discussions with the five countries have been ongoing to resolve the issue.
The returnee workers would be put in quarantine on their return to stop any possible transmission of Covid-19 disease in the country, he said.
About half of about 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia became undocumented after the expiry of their work permits, while the figures are 60,000 in Maldives, about 20,000 in Kuwait, about 51,000 in Bahrain and about 40 percent of an estimated 180,000 workers in Oman, New Age newspaper reported on April 7, referring to data from the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Already our country in reeling from the coronavirus outbreak and consequent economic meltdown, and if such large number of workers are forced to return, it will make the situation worse. The government needs to be meticulous and solve the problem through discussions in diplomatic channels,” Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, told UCA News.
As most of the stranded workers went abroad legally with job permits, the government should continue efforts on how to improve their status instead of just bringing them home, the priest noted.
“These people work hard to earn money and contribute to the development of both their homeland and countries of work. We need to convince those countries of the fact. If they are forced to return, the government should ensure their proper rehabilitation,” Father Gomes said.
Under the current circumstances, it is a huge risk to bring back undocumented migrant workers, said Al-Amin Nayan, an official from the migration desk at BRAC, a leading Bangladeshi NGO.
“Due to coronavirus, the global economy is on a downtrend and the countries urging Bangladesh to take back workers have also been hit by the virus. There is a big question of Bangladesh’s ability to support workers if they are forced to return,” Nayan told UCA News.
The government needs to keep trying to convince those countries that it is risky and difficult to bring back workers, and if it fails, workers must have support from the state on their return, he said.
“The workers need to be put under a quarantine, rehabilitation and reintegration process with state support. There should be a stimulus package for workers who lost jobs because their income makes vital contributions to our economy,” Nayan added.
About one quarter of Bangladesh’s more than 160 million population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Millions of poor, illiterate and semi-skilled Bangladeshis have moved abroad to work to escape poverty and unemployment.
Some 8-10 million Bangladeshis are overseas migrant workers, documented and undocumented, mostly in Middle Eastern countries, according to government data.
Bangladesh receives about US$15 billion in remittances from expatriate workers annually, which is vital for the economy of the South Asian country.
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