According to a survey conducted by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, a British Council project, more than one thousand families of Pakoria union in the district of Tangail have faced deception at different stages when they did send or tried to send at least one of their family members abroad. The survey was conducted on 5,407 households in nine villages of Pakoria and 11 wards of Elenga recently.
About 40 per cent of the households were found to have attempted to send their family members abroad.
The survey revealed that, members of 19 per cent families failed to go abroad despite making partial or full payments for the migration process, while 32 per cent families faced harassment including jail, detention, and extortion, blackmail, and police action, physical and mental torture in the destination countries. As many as 693 households suffered financial losses due to their failure in migration attempts. The average loss per household is Tk 2.43 lakh. The findings of the survey done with the help of Prokas, a British Council project, were disclosed on July 19, at an event “Consultation on Fraudulence in Processing Migration” held at Dhaka University.
Migrants faced such degrading treatment mainly in Libya, Maldives, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore. It is not a secret that the path of migration for Bangladeshi workers is not smooth. The brokers always exploit migrant workers, taking advantage of their ignorance. As these brokers remain out of accountability or legal action, they easily deceive prospective jobseekers and take extra money from them. It is also learnt that, an unscrupulous section of officials at the labour wings of some Bangladeshi missions abroad are also involved in these corrupt practices.
Around 90 per cent of five lakh Bangladeshi male workers had to pay two to three times higher the usual migration cost during the year 2016 for having visas and work permit for seven countries, including five in the Middle East. They had to pay bribes at different stages at the Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry and the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) for visa approval – said a Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) report released recently.
The workers had to pay between Tk 5 lakh and 12 lakh each for getting a Saudi visa and at least Tk 3 lakh each for visas for Oman, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, the UAE and Bahrain. But the private recruiting agents spent only Tk 1 lakh to Tk 2.5 lakh on each visa, said the TIB report. At least Tk 5,234 crore was laundered from Bangladesh last year for getting visas for these countries, said the report titled “Good Governance in Labour Migration Process: Problem and Way Out”.
Around 90 per cent male migrant workers had fallen victim of corruption in 2016, said TIB in its report. TIB also observed that the migration sector lacks good governance due to legal, institutional and procedural limitations, as the labour migration process is complicate and lengthy. A migrant aspirant needs to go through 24 to 27 stages for getting visas, immigration clearance and smart cards. TIB recommended that the government should amend some clauses of the Overseas Employment and Migrant Welfare Act 2013, bring brokers under a legal framework to hold them accountable and set up one-stop service centres.
Bangladeshi migrant workers, particularly women, face an array of abuse abroad. According to UN’s International Organisation for Migration, seven out of ten female migrant workers suffer torture while abroad. Unscrupulous recruiting agencies and brokers run a syndicate that puts a large number of female workers abroad in conditions tantamount to modern-day slavery. The number of women migrant workers has shot up significantly in recent years, and along with it have spread the tentacles of human trafficking syndicates.
A total of 757,731 skilled, semiskilled and unskilled workers were sent to different countries in 2016 and the number is 36.31 per cent higher than that of 2015. Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry source said, the highest 188,247 workers migrated to Oman while 143,913 workers flew to Saudi Arabia in 2016. A total of 118,158 female workers migrated in 2016 while the number was 103,707 in 2015, 76,007 in 2014 and 56,400 in 2013. Top five destinations for the female workers are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Qatar and UAE. The number of labour wings has been increased to 29 in the last few years from previous 12. All these are positive development towards migration of Bangladeshi workers.
After the prime minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia in June 2016, the prospects of manpower export to Saudi Arabia took a new turn. Following the PM’s visit, the Saudi government withdrew the ban on Bangladeshi workers and signed a new MoU for recruiting new workforces. The migration cost to Saudi Arabia has also been set at Tk 165,000 per person.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged the global community to take a vow and act together to lift the migrants from their miseries and agonies. “Migration is no longer about ‘us’ and ‘them’… it is about prosperity and wellbeing of all people, all states. We need to see how we can realise the transformative potential of migration by laying an appropriate framework for governance of migration,” she said while addressing the inaugural ceremony of the three-day 9th Summit of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) on December 10, 2016.
Malaysian employers pay a documented Bangladeshi worker 1,000-Ringitts before tax deduction while a Filipino worker gets 1,200 Ringgits per month. The situation is worst in case of those workers who are working there illegally. But the Malaysian employers are compelled by law to bear the costs for taking Bangladeshi workers legally. Sadly, Malaysian police are very active in arresting and deporting the illegal workers, but they do not take any action against the employers.
The miseries of the migrant workers from Bangladesh are not limited only to Malaysia but also in many other countries. A nexus between the employers of migrant workers abroad and illegal manpower brokers there is jacking up the migration cost of Bangladeshi workers. Recruiting agents and illegal brokers in the Gulf and Southeast Asian regions buy work visas from overseas employers and then sell those either to licensed recruiting agents or illegal brokers in Bangladesh making a huge profit. As a result, the total migration cost of the jobseekers abroad is now between Tk 5 lakh and 6 lakh. Bangladeshi migrant workers pay the highest recruitment costs in the world, said a World Bank report released in last year.
According to the media reports, Bangladeshi female domestic workers are falling victim to sexual and other kinds of abuses in the Middle East countries despite human rights activists and governments calling for labour reforms in some countries in the region. The countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and India have already stopped sending women as domestic workers to these countries. But Bangladesh has not yet stopped sending female domestic workers to the Middle East countries.
The cabinet approved the draft of Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Policy 2016 with a view to protecting the rights of migrant workers and removing the gross anomalies in the sector. The draft policy aims to address some crucially important issues which need to be addressed to make sure that the prospective migrant workers do not find themselves in dire trouble after arriving in a foreign country. Surely it is a welcome development. Ministries of Expatriate Welfare, External Affairs and Labour must work together to mitigate the suffering of our migrant workers working in different countries.
The writer is a columnist