Bangladesh must step up efforts to strengthen regulation of the migrant recruitment system to protect migrant workers against exploitation and abuses, a UN expert said on Tuesday.
“Recruitment currently imposes exorbitant high costs on many migrants, creating debt bondage, much of which are imposed by “middlemen” who are used to recruit workers,” said Felipe González Morales, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, in a statement at the end of a 10-day official visit to Bangladesh.
Intermediaries/middlemen exploit these situations by imposing fees as high as 3,000 USD for a migrant to get access to work abroad, he said adding that many of these aspirant workers have to sell their properties or take on loans that become excessive, leading to debt bondage.
“Once they arrive in their country of destination, most of the money they try and earn often has to be used to service these loans resulting in migrant workers being left with little to support themselves and their families.”
In this context, he said the exploitation of aspirant migrant workers begins even before they set foot at their place of employment overseas. “I observed that there are many cases such as these and urge the Government to strengthen the protection of migrant workers, particularly those who are in situations of vulnerability, including the poor and illiterate.”
The UN expert undertook an official visit from January 20 to 31 at the invitation of the Government of Bangladesh. He thanked the government for the invitation to be here and the excellent cooperation throughout the preparation and the conduct of his visit.
Addressing a warping up press conference at Westin Hotel on Tuesday afternoon, González Morales urged authorities to protect the rights of migrant workers at all stages of migration, including pre-departure, during employment abroad and upon their return. The Special Rapporteur commended the Government for actions taken to curb these challenges, but said there was still a need to regulate, closely monitor and enhance the recruitment system to ensure effective protection for migrants, including better access to justice.
“It is the lower-skilled migrants who are often subject to vulnerable situations, including exploitation, as they are often poor, lack education and without access to information that can help inform their decisions and enhance their migration experiences,” González Morales said.
The Special Rapporteur encouraged ongoing training initiatives for aspiring migrant workers but stressed the need to better equip them with adequate information prior to departure, including recourse when they suffer abuse.
He welcomed the establishment of a database of aspiring migrant workers as well as better regulation of middlemen, including the requirement for registration. González Morales asserted that responsibility for migrant workers equally falls on countries of destination.
“These countries must do their part in ensuring strong protection for migrant workers, particularly women who are disproportionately at risk of human rights violations when they are hired as domestic workers,” he said.
“Destination countries – most of them in the Middle East – must also take an active role in investigating and sanctioning perpetrators of human rights violations against Bangladeshi migrant workers,” the Special Rapporteur said.
“At the same time, Bangladesh should continue to strengthen its consular services”, he added.
During his visit, the Special Rapporteur travelled to Cox’s Bazaar to meet with Rohingya refugees.
González Morales praised Bangladesh for receiving nearly one million Rohingyas escaping from Myanmar and said he was impressed by the resilience of the Rohingya refugees – some of whom have been living in camps for over five years, and others 30 years since first arrivals in the early 1990s.
“A durable solution for all Rohingya refugees is critical,” the UN expert said. He expressed concern about the lack of legal status for Rohingyas, and noted that children who are born in the camps he visited are not issued an official birth certificate.
The expert also called on the authorities to facilitate permits to improve access to education through learning centers and life skills training which many Rohingyas have praised and welcomed as a means to a more hopeful and dignified life.
He also noted the need to upgrade the quality of housing in the camps particularly in light of the impact of climate change that have resulted in fire and flooding incidents.