• Visas of 95% of them have already expired
• Returnees demonstrated on June 1 for permission to rejoin work
• Malaysia is home to around eight lakh Bangladeshis
• The country suspended labour recruitment from Bangladesh in 2018
Nazmul Huda flew to Dhaka from Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur in January last year on a two-month vacation. Before he could leave, the coronavirus arrived in Bangladesh and has continued to linger, turning his holiday into a frightening reality.
The 30-year-old has been stuck at home in Cumilla without income for about one and a half years now due to entry restrictions imposed by the Malaysian government. In the meantime, his visa expired.
Around 24,000 expatriates like Nazmul could not return to Malaysia, home to around eight lakh Bangladeshis, to join work during the pandemic. And more than 95% of them have had their visa expired.
Though migrant workers from other destinations, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, have started to go back, those who came from Malaysia have been facing a fresh restriction since May 5 after a gap of around eight months.
In September last year, the Malaysian authorities lifted the bar on entry of travellers from 23 countries, including Bangladesh, but travellers had to bear additional expenditure for institutional quarantine upon arrival in Malaysia. The country again banned entry of people from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal for concerns over more contagious Indian variant.
Mahmudul Haque Pearu, a travel agent, said Bangladeshi expats from Malaysia could not go back between September and April due to flight shortage and high quarantine fees.
Moreover, many migrant workers were facing complications in visa renewal, said Shaheen Alam, another migrant worker.
"I have run out of my savings. Now, I am bearing expenses of my family by borrowing money," he said over the phone from Natore.
Several migrants said that only 1,000 people could fly back to Malaysia and rejoin work after the authorities had eased restrictions in September.
This is the backdrop to returnees from Malaysia staging a demonstration on June 1 in front of the National Press Club demanding that they be allowed in Malaysia immediately. Another rally had been held a few months back pressing home similar demands.
Protesters urged the government to negotiate an extension of their visas with the Malaysian government. They demanded chartered flights to carry migrants to Malaysia complying with health safety guidelines and Tk 5 lakh financial support to the families of migrants if any of them died while spending a vacation in Bangladesh.
Migrants, who participated in the rallies, also said the government would have to bear the cost of transporting the bodies of the deceased from Malaysia, and provide cash support and incentives to those who remained stranded here.