Tuesday, 27 September, 2022

Expatriates: Our True VIPs

Abdul Mukith

Money wired from abroad is called a lifeline to the economy. It is a key pillar of foreign currency earnings of a country. Remittance brings macroeconomic and socioeconomic benefits for a country. It helps narrow the account deficit of balance of payments, support economic growth, improve forex liquidity in the banking system, alleviate poverty and income disparities and reduce the fiscal burden on social security payments. Remittance provides people in the lower-income countries with disposable income for food, housing or even supporting a business. In Bangladesh, the contribution of remittance to the country's total GDP is about 12 percent. After ready-made garments, remittance is the biggest contributor to the economy.

We are aware well that Sri Lanka is now facing its worst economic crisis in history with foreign exchange reserves having dropped below US$2 billion. The forex reserves dipped following a decline in workers' remittance as a broken soft-pegged exchange rate regime discouraged transfers through official channels. The financial crisis has left the citizens of the island nation to deal with ballooning food costs, hours-long lineups for fuel and power blackouts that last half the day. The country is facing record inflation and unemployment, the likes of which haven't been seen in 74 years. Actually, the country has gone ‘bankrupt’ after running out of forex reserves, the currencies it needs to pay for imports. Remittance sent to Sri Lanka dropped sharply since last fall when the Central Bank pegged the local currency. This move pushed people to turn to informal wire transfer services where they could get a much better exchange rate. In the first five months of the current year, the Central Bank reported just US$1.3 billion in foreign remittance compared to $2.8 billion in the corresponding period last year.

Bangladesh is now in a safe position in terms of both forex reserves and remittance inflow. The country has seen a rise in remittance sent by our expatriates with the forex reserves hovering around $40 billion. Bangladeshi expatriates remitted $2.03 billion in August this year in a welcome respite for the economy, registering a 12.58 percent year-on-year growth. Non-resident Bangladeshis sent home $1.81 billion in the corresponding period last year. As per the Bangladesh Bank data, the country fetched $2.1 billion in July this year. It received $21.03 billion in remittance in 2021-22 fiscal year while record $24.77 billion in 2020-21 FY, $18.2 billion in 2019-20 FY and $16.31 billion in 2018-19 FY.

Bangladesh retained its position as the seventh highest recipient of remittance among 10 top recipient nations in 2021. The top six remittance recipient countries ahead of Bangladesh are India, Mexico, China, the Philippines, Egypt and Pakistan. Among the eight South Asian nations, Bangladesh claimed the 3rd position after India and Pakistan. After hitting record $48 billion in August last year, Bangladesh’s forex reserves started to decline and dropped below $40 mainly due to the widening gap between imports and exports. However, the rise in remittance inflow has come as a welcome respite when the country is desperately looking to shore up its foreign currency reserves to pay growing import bills.

This money is wired by Bangladeshi expatriates living in different countries where many of them face exploitation, neglect, harassment and torture. They are even subjected to harassment at Bangladesh embassies and high commissions in the respective countries. However, they endure and suppress all these for the sake of bringing smiles to their families as well as the welfare of the country. They keep sending remittance back home forgetting all these ordeals. So, they are the saviours of our economy. They are our real heroes.

However, it is a matter of regret that they have to face harassment and ill-treatment at airports, particularly at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, upon their return to their very motherland. Their joy of homecoming is marred by the misbehaviour of airport staff as they are harassed both physically and mentally and forced to pay money on various excuses at the airports. Valuables get stolen from their luggage while they have to wait for hours to get their luggage. Even some expatriates are attacked physically by the airport staff. However, they can’t register any protest fearing reprisal. If anyone dares to protest the indecent behaviour of the airport staff, they invite more danger for them. Those who are bound for the Middle East are the worst sufferers. Chairman of Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman also admitted that misconduct with ordinary passengers at the airport has become a regular occurrence.

Such an incident took place at the Dhaka airport in the early hours of August 6 when a customs officer slapped an expatriate. According to reports, the Bangladeshi expatriate living in Malaysia landed at the airport in the wee hours. Assistant revenue officer of Dhaka Customs House Sohel Rana interrogated him and frisked him at the customs zone. At one stage, he slapped the passenger. This was not the end to the expatriate’s ordeals. He was forced to wait for long at the customs desk in the name of checking his luggage. He was later allowed to go as nothing illegal was found in his possession. Sohel Rana was suspended after reports were published in media.

This is a shameful incident. This is indeed a shame for us. Whereas the expatriates should have been treated with respect for their great contributions to keeping the economy stable, they are facing harassment instead. Nothing can be more regrettable than this. This can in no way be accepted. No one has the right to hurt a passenger even if they make a mistake. And customs officer Sohel Rana slapped the expatriate although he was not at fault at all.

Expatriates, known as remittance fighters, are our true VIPs as they are the saviours of the economy. They are helping keep our economy stable at a time when the global economy has been battered by the Russia-Ukraine war and subsequent sanctions imposed on Russia by the West after it started recovering from the coronavirus-induced slowdown. We can now realise how important the remittance is for us. Money wired by our expatriates is ensuring that the foreign exchange reserves remain healthy. So, our expatriates should be treated as VIPs everywhere, including airports and foreign missions. They do not deserve treatment like third-class citizens. They should be given special honour and priority. Steps must be taken to end harassment and ill-treatment of the expatriates at the airports.

Dedicated zones with trained staff can be arranged at the airports for the expatriates so that they can complete their formalities, including clearing immigration and customs, without any hassle. Passports of a specific colour can also be introduced for the expatriates to enable the airport staff to distinguish them and treat them accordingly.

The CAAB chairman said they will introduce a special training course on proper manners for the airport staff. The course will cover immigration, customs and police personnel working at the airport. Issuing a note of warning, he said none will be able to work here while misbehaving with passengers. However, many think the training will be of no use unless stern action is taken against those who are responsible for such incidents. Around 25-30 agencies are involved in airport activities. Although the airport is under the control of CAAB, it has no authority to take action against the members of other agencies. As a result, they resort to a competition of showing their power and the passengers become the victims of it. So, it is needed to ensure coordination between all the agencies to bring an end to harassment of the expatriates.


The writer is Shift in-charge, the

Daily Sun