Although the labour market in Libya has recently reopened for Bangladeshis after a pause of nearly a decade due to the Libyan Civil War, just 15 recruiting agencies are now calling the shots, making the once lucrative destination in the MENA region uncertain and costlier for job seekers.
In February this year, Libya's labour market was reopened for Bangladeshis, but the Libyan Embassy in Dhaka was said to be lax in receiving and delivering passports submitted by any agency other than "the 15."
However, following the intervention of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA), the embassy started accepting and delivering passports submitted by other agencies on October 24, 2022.
In November last year, Bangladesh lifted the restriction on sending workers to Libya considering the "improved political situation" in the war-torn country.
In 2012, the government banned sending workers to Libya following political unrest in the country.
Sohail Ahsan Khan, an exporter of labour, told UNB that he submitted 12 passports to Md Kefaitullah Mamun, managing partner of Sonar Bangla Krishi Khamar Recruiting Agency, an influential member of the 15 recruiting agencies, for stamping visas a few days back.
Initially, Kefaitullah had agreed to accept a fee of $150 per passport from Khan for stamping them with visas. But then he ratcheted it up by 10 times to $1500, and declined to return the passports, else.
Abul Kashem, a youth from Noakhali, said he submitted his passport through a recruiting agency three months back to go to Libya.
"I'm not getting my passport back after my visa was stamped due to a melee between two agencies. My visa will expire on November 9. I don't know whether I will, finally, be able to go to Libya," he added.
Like Kashem, many other people are not getting their passports back in time before their visas – (for Libya or elsewhere) expire. If they do not get their passports back with their visas, their journey to Libya will become uncertain.
We tried repeatedly, but Kefaitullah simply could not be reached over the phone. He also did not respond to an SMS sent to his number.
BAIRA President Mohammed Abul Basher said 55 percent of Bangladesh's foreign exchange earnings come from remittances sent by expatriates. "But regrettably, no one including the ministry concerned or its subordinate offices, is taking any step for the development of the labour migration sector."
"After a long time, the opportunity to export Bangladeshi manpower to Libya has been created, but due to the syndicate of 15 recruiting agencies, labour migration to Libya has been hurt," Basher said.
He said BAIRA, which has over 1600 members, already wrote to the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment to take action against this "syndicate." "We also wrote to the Libyan Embassy in Dhaka. And the mission has started delivering the passports submitted by other agencies."
The BAIRA president said they want a "syndicate-free" environment in labour migration so that the workers can go abroad cheaply, or at least spending less money.
He also said a delegation from Libya will come to Bangladesh very soon and it will talk with the embassy and related stakeholders to do what it takes to take Bangladeshi workers to Libya at a low cost.
About the allegation that Sonar Bangla and other agencies are charging extra money by taking hold of passports, Abul Basher said they are informed about it and are trying to resolve this.
"Md Kefaitullah Mamun, managing partner of Sonar Bangla Agency, has been inflicting fatal damage on labour migration. He has been cooperating with the syndicate, harming the sector," the BAIRA president said.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam Sunday said Bangladesh supports legal migration to other countries and wants to enhance cooperation with Libya to curb illegal migration.
He particularly sought the cooperation of Libya in contract farming of Bangladesh agro-entrepreneurs in Libya by leasing land there.
Libyan Ambassador Abdulmutalib SM Suliman told him that his country wants to employ Bangladeshi doctors, nurses, technicians and engineers in Libya.
The International Organization for Migration's Mobility Tracking survey in Libya identified 17,409 Bangladeshi nationals in the country between February and April 20221.
Mobility Tracking in Libya gathers data through key informant interviews at both the municipality and community level on a bi-monthly basis.
Of the total migrants identified by key informants in the country in February and April 2022, Bangladeshi migrants made up only three percent of total migrants in the country; however, Bangladeshi nationals accounted for 34 percent of all migrants, including refugees, from South Asia and the Middle East.
Ninety-one percent of Bangladeshi migrants used air travel as their means of transportation to Libya. In addition, the average cost of their migration was $2,423.
Fifty-four percent of Bangladeshi migrants were identified in western Libya. However, the highest concentration was in Benghazi (33 percent) in the east, followed by Tripoli (20 percent) and Misrata (13 percent) in the west.
Turkey was a transit country to reach Libya for more than a third of Bangladeshi migrants (34 percent). Migrants transiting through the UAE and then Turkey reported paying more than those transiting through other countries.