Migrant workers worst victims of coronavirus outbreak

Rajib Kanti Roy

24th April, 2020 06:02:52 printer

Migrant workers worst victims of coronavirus outbreak

Covid-19 has jolted the country's economy hard. Most of the offices, factories, markets and shopping malls have been shut off and economic activities have been halted. Crores of workers are living on the little savings they have and seeing a gloomy future ahead. Their employers are either have started sacking them or stopped paying salaries!

In such a situation workers are confounded. However, the government, non-government and voluntary organisations are stepping forward to assist them.

Besides, they are taking help from their relatives, friends, neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances. But think about the migrant workers. Lacking basic rights and marooned in unfamiliar places, they are feeling utterly helpless. They are at a high risk of losing their jobs and returning Bangladesh with empty hands. But their crises and problems are completely ignored in our national coronavirus management planning.

According to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA), around one crore and thirty lakhs of Bangladeshi migrant workers are working across the world. Selling their last valuable assets and borrowing money from others they went abroad to ensure a minimum standard of living for their family members. But most of them became the victims of cheating in every step. The job they were offered when they were in Bangladesh and the job they got following their arrival in the destination countries were not similar. They receive much less than their anticipated salaries and live in unhygienic conditions. Besides, a maximum of them are inhumanly harassed by our embassy officials, respective governments and their employers. Yet tolerating all these they have been working and boosting our economy only to facilitate their family members living in the country.

Migrant workers are leading a confined life inside their room as most countries have declared lockdown. Some of them are infected by coronavirus. Many are already terminated and others are waiting to be terminated from their job. Besides, a large portion of their salaries are reduced up to 50%. Being isolated in a foreign land these workers are spending their hard-earned money for their living. And losing their source of income they are failing to send money to their family members in Bangladesh. Consequently, their families are struggling to survive. Unfortunately, neither Bangladesh embassies in different countries have any complete database of our migrant workers nor local administration has any idea about the whereabouts of their families. Considering the current situation the government should prepare a list of their underprivileged families to stand beside them and make sure that our embassies abroad are taking good care of our workers.

The government has taken a few steps to assist our expat workers. They have sent foods, medicines and several medical teams to the Maldives for our migrant workers through a navy ship. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment are speaking with the Singapore government to ensure proper treatment of our corona infected workers there. They have been working to bring back ordinary workers from several countries. A good number of workers are now living abroad illegally as they couldn’t renew their visas due to the ongoing corona crisis.

However, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have decided to not take any action against them until normalcy returns. Embassies have opened hotline numbers and social media pages and asked the workers to seek their help if necessary. The government has allocated money for them in many countries but the amount is inadequate.

Our socio-economic advancement largely depends on the remittances (USD 16 billion annually) sent by our migrant workers. In terms of net earnings, it is the single highest source of foreign currency for Bangladesh. Therefore our politicians and economists often fondly call our migrant workers as ‘remittance fighters’. But when it comes to facilitating them we display our sheer negligence.

The government has declared a bailout package of almost Tk one lakh crore in a couple of phases. From industrialists to street beggers; all are included in this incentive programme except migrant workers! The Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment has formed a special fund of Tk 450 crore. It is totally impossible to help one crore and thirty lakh migrant workers through this little amount of money.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began around 5-6 lakh of migrant workers have returned to Bangladesh. This number will surely increase when international flights will resume. Thus besides assisting the expat workers abroad and their families in the country, the government has to rehabilitate the workers who returned from different countries. Otherwise, sufferings of them will know no bound.