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New ministry to help domestic migrant workers in Bangladesh

Most domestic migrant workers come from rural areas, unaware about the challenges of city life

New ministry to help domestic migrant workers in Bangladesh

Bangladeshi laborers work in a small garments factory in Dhaka in this file photo. About 4.5 percent of migrant workers are from rural areas. (Photo by AFP) 

The Catholic Church in Bangladesh is aiming to open a new ministry to assist Christian domestic migrant workers and fill a gap in providing spiritual and social care, and to save them from abuse and exploitation.

"Migrant Christians often don't get proper sacramental, pastoral or social services because they are busy supporting their families and lose touch with the church," said Theophil Nokrek, secretary of the Bangladesh Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission.

"Most domestic migrant workers come from rural areas, are poorly educated and unaware about the challenges of city life, which makes them vulnerable to various kinds of abuse and exploitation," Nokrek said.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a seminar for domestic migrant workers at the Holy Spirit National Major Seminary in Dhaka on June 10.

The Justice and Peace Commission and Caritas Bangladesh organized the seminar, which drew about 200 participants, mostly from the tribal Garo community.

Nokrek said the seminar is part of a series of programs designed to help an estimated 60,000 migrant Christians living and working in Dhaka and nearby areas.

The Bangladesh Catholic bishops' conference is currently discussing the feasibility of opening a new ministry for migrants in Dhaka, which has the largest concentration of domestic migrant workers, he said.

No time frame has yet been set for its implementation.

"The ministry will consist of five priests, several nuns and laypeople, and will serve the needs of a large number of migrant workers," he said.

According to 2011 Bangladesh Census, about 28.4 percent of the country's 160 million people live in cities and 4.5 percent are migrant workers from rural areas.

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Currently, the bishops' conference runs a migrants desk and offers assistance to vulnerable workers with support from Caritas, according to Ranjon Francis Rozario, Caritas Dhaka's regional director.

"Such migrants face violence especially against women and children, lack of health services, high rate of family breakdowns, scarcity of accommodation and legal support," said Rozario.

"We are ready to help migrant workers to set up and run social and financial organizations," Rozario said.

Shila Chiran, 32, a Garo tribal Catholic and beauty parlor worker said church organizations need to do more to assist migrant workers like her.

"About 15 years ago when I came to Dhaka for a job, and in the first two years I have faced abuse and discrimination at my workplace and residence but there was no one to turn to," Chiran told ucanews.com.

"There are still many who need support as they are exploited and abused. The church can help them overcome their challenges of practical life," she said.

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