When Anwar Hossain flew back to Saudi Arabia after enjoying his staycation, he had no idea he would have to return home forever just a month later.
Anwar, who is from Dhaka's Dohar upazila, had been working in Saudi Arabia for the last 12 years. Eight months ago, he came to Bangladesh on vacation.
Upon his return to the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, he got a new Iqama (work permit). To his bewilderment, he was deported by the Saudi Arabian authorities on October 4, despite having the work permit.
Like Anwar, over 16,000 Bangladeshi migrants were sent back from Saudi Arabia this year, said officials at the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).
Brac Migration Programme officials also confirmed the figure.
Selim Reza, secretary of the Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, told The Business Standard that Bangladeshi workers sometimes violate Iqama conditions and that is why they are being deported.
"Iqama is issued for a specific region and a specific employer in Saudi Arabia. Sometimes our workers go to a different region and work for a different employer. Some even work independently.
"In Saudi Arabian law, this is not allowed. Workers are not supposed to do this. That is why some workers having valid work permits are being detained and deported," he explained.
Selim said there had been efforts to address the problem faced by Bangladeshi migrants in Saudi Arabia in the last few years, following crackdowns on undocumented migrants.
"A joint working committee meeting will be held in Riyadh next month. We will raise the problems our workers are facing in the meeting," he added.
74,686 deported in 5 years
BMET sources said 74,686 Bangladeshi workers were sent back from Saudi Arabia in the last five years as part of the deportation spree. This year, a total of 16,451 workers returned till October.
The year 2018 saw the highest number of returnees, with 19,210 workers coming back to Bangladesh from the Arab country.
The returnees did not have passports and work permits when they arrived in Bangladesh.
In October alone, 734 workers have been sent back. Of them, 130 returned on October 3, 120 on October 4, 105 on October 8, 93 on October 9 and 200 on Wednesday (October 26).
"Following their arrival, a support team comprising government officials at the Probashi Kalyan Desk and officials of Brac Migration Programme arranged food for them and also assisted them at the immigration office," said BMET Assistant Director Tanvir Hossain.
He said the ministry was working to reintegrate the returnees into the local labour force so that they can lead a normal life.
Brac Migration Programme head Shariful Islam Hasan quoted several migrants as saying that Bangladeshi workers had been facing crackdowns in Saudi Arabia in the past several days of this month.
''Even those having work permits were detained and sent to deportation camps. Their employers did not take any effective measures after being informed of the detentions," he said.
Shariful said the Saudi Arabian police even detained several workers while they were returning home from work.
''Besides, many undocumented migrants who stayed in the oil-rich country for several years were detained and sent back," he added.
Syed Saiful Haque, chairman of the Welfare Association for the Rights of Bangladeshi Emigrants Development Foundation, said there is another story of the returnees that involves wage differences.
"The companies have various excuses to make high-paid workers redundant and subsequently send them back. Such workers are replaced with new low-wage employees," he said.
Saiful said those affected this way should contact the Wage Earners' Welfare Board for compensation.
"Workers who are abroad can also contact our foundation," he added.
Meanwhile, at least 850 female migrants who faced torture and abuse in Saudi Arabia have returned home this year, according to the Brac Migration Programme. Last year, the number was over 1,300.
The returnees alleged various forms of abuse, including physical, sexual and psychological, by their employers.
Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport officials said the female migrants first took shelter at a safe home run by the Bangladeshi embassy in Riyadh.
The embassy later arranged their repatriation.
BMET Additional Director General (Employment) KM Ruhul Amin said explanations had been sought from agencies whose workers had returned without passports.
"The ministry is trying to solve the problem," he added.
BMET Director DM Atiqur Rahman said some workers are returning due to their unwillingness to stay abroad, while some are doing so because of work permit-related problems.
BMET Assistant Director Tanvir said the labour wing of the Bangladesh mission in Saudi Arabia is looking after the welfare of Bangladeshi migrants there.
Saudi Arabia, which reopened its labour market for Bangladeshi workers in 2015 after a seven-year closure, recruited 12.44 lakh workers between 2015 and August this year.
According to the BMET, 2.68 lakh Bangladeshis went to Saudi Arabia until September this year.
Since 1976, the total number of overseas employment of Bangladeshis stands at more than 12.50 crore. Of them, 30.93 percent were employed in Saudi Arabia.
Around 11 lakh Bangladeshis are currently living in Saudi Arabia, according to unofficial estimates.
The figure is still the highest among all the countries where Bangladeshi migrants live.
However, the country is now strongly enforcing the Saudisation policy, which means it is preferring local workers to foreigners.