Partnership among stakeholders to protect migrants in COVID-19 crisis

Md Owasim Uddin Bhuyan

The International Migrants Day 2020 during this COVID-19 pandemic appears depressing for millions of the global migrant workers, including Bangladeshis, as they are facing crisis at different stages of migration.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers have experienced joblessness, food scarcity, an undocumented situation, detention and deportation at destinations while many others faced xenophobic backlash on return home amid COVID-19 pandemic.

With no earnings, many Bangladeshi migrants fell into debt bondage and a bleak situation on return home from abroad, according to migrant rights activists.

Over 13 million of migrant workers of Bangladesh scattered across the world, were mostly employed in the Middle East countries hit hard by the pandemic forcing many of them to return home penniless, they said.

The ongoing pandemic of coronavirus was first identified in December last year in Wuhan, China. More than 74 million cases have been confirmed, with more than 1.64 million deaths attributed to COVID-19 globally.

This year International Migrants Day on 18 December marks the two-year anniversary of the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM). This has been an important international effort to foster justice for the migrants in crisis.

Migration experts said that Bangladeshi migrant workers are at risk all over the world. Even though remittances are the largest driver of the domestic economy, the plight of migrant workers in many countries remains dire, where women migrants furthermore face various forms of discrimination including wage deprivation, gender-based violence, sexual harassment and physical abuse, and there are limited government resources available for assistance.

Bangladesh government officials said that the pandemic affected the mobility of migrant workers due to restrictions on international travel. They, however, expressed satisfaction over rising flow of remittance sent by the Bangladeshi migrants during this pandemic.

On occasion of the International Migrants Day 2020, labour rights leaders and concerned officials of international organisations based in Bangladesh have stressed the need for forging strong partnership among all stakeholders, including trade unions and civil society organisations to address the current challenges of migration sector caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

When approached for official comment, Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment ministry’s secretary Dr Ahmed Munirus Saleheen said that the neo-normal ensuing from the global pandemic Covid-19 has very adversely affected human mobility across the globe.

In its efforts to reimagine human mobility in the changed circumstances, the government of Bangladesh is more committed to quality migration with special focus on skills development, he said.

“We have chosen skill development not only as our theme for the Mujib Year, but also for this year’s celebration of International Migrants Day,” he said.

Replying to a question Munirus Saleheen said “Given that ensuring safe and ethical migration is a shared responsibility, all actors including government departments and CSOs must work in partnership. The CSOs need to be more result oriented at the grassroots level.”

Bangladeshi migrants have been working in 170 countries as they have been being given manpower clearance to cross border with overseas jobs since 1976, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).

Bangladesh sends, on an average, 600,000 workers abroad each year and it receives annual remittance of US$ 16 billion, according to officials.

As coronavirus started spreading in Bangladesh from last March-April this year, the BMET stopped regularly updating manpower clearance data over last eight months due to drastic fall of overseas employment, said its officials.

Wage Earners Welfare Board’s officials at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport recorded that over 327,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers, mostly from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have returned home from April to November.

Of them, 287,000 were male and 40,000 were female migrants, the data show.

Apart from KSA and UAE, Bangladeshi migrants have largely come back home from Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Iraq, Maldives, Malaysia, Jordan and Lebanon.

Migrant worker Farhad Sardar, 54, of Kalikapur in Madaripur returned home empty-handed from Saudi Arabia on December 3, 2020.

On his arrival at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport without COVID-19 test certificate, he was put in Diyabari Quarantine Camp in Uttara.

He was released on December 10 after being tested negative COVID-19. In an interview with this correspondent in front of the quarantine camp, the returned migrant narrated his story of failed migration.

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