Around 60% of female migrant workers who returned to the country are currently unemployed, while 65% have no regular monthly income and 61% are in debt, says a report.
These female migrant returnees are constantly being humiliated in the family and society. In some cases, they are being subjected to extreme inhumane treatment, according to a recent study by the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies (BILS), titled "Social and economic status of female migrant workers returning to the country".
According to the report, 55% of the female migrant returnees are physically ill while 29% are suffering from mental diseases. Around 75% of them have no savings, 73% are failing to meet the daily needs of their families and 38% are considered as "characterless" women in society.
The research report was presented at a press conference held at the BILS seminar hall in Dhanmondi on Monday. The organisation conducted a survey from July to December 2020 on 323 female migrant workers in three districts of the country – Chattogram, Jashore and Faridpur.
According to a case study cited in the report, Farida Begum (not her real name) from Chattogram is breaking down mentally day by day as she faces unbearable social stigma as a female migrant returnee. She returned to the country after being in Jordan for around one year in captivity. During this time, she was denied food and tortured physically. Along with two other girls, she jumped down from a three-storeyed building and somehow escaped. The Bangladesh Embassy in Jordan facilitated her repatriation.
Farida is now living at her parents' home. Her walk is a limp, as she has become physically challenged permanently due to the physical torture she was subjected to. Her in-laws never enquire about her. Her husband lives with her, but he behaves cruelly. Her siblings do not talk to her. She said, "My husband often tells me, 'Why do you not die? Any other woman like you would have died'."
She often feels like committing suicide, but dares not. At present, her only hope is to go abroad again. She said, "I do not know how I can survive; if I can emigrate again, then it can be manageable."
Md Monirul Islam, deputy director responsible for the research, said, "After going abroad in the hope of changing the fortunes of their families, around 23% of female migrant workers returned home even before one year had gone by. The return of 55% of women workers was forced."
He added that the economic status of one out of every three women workers returning to the country has worsened from what it was before, and most of them are worried about their future. Among the women migrant returnees, 85% are frustrated with their current jobs and 57% are worried about their life and livelihood.
"Before my mother migrated, our condition was not so bad. Now, it is a tough time. Sometimes we eat and sometimes we starve", said Champa, the daughter of a returnee from Jashore.
Momtaz, the mother of a returnee from Faridpur, said, "My daughter is sick. She was not allowed to communicate while abroad. She used to be deprived of food regularly. A few days ago, she became completely insane."
The study found that 52% of the female migrant workers were subjected to forced labour abroad, 61% suffered from lack of food and water abroad, 7% were sexually abused and 38% were physically tortured.
At the press conference, Nazma Yasmin, director of the research, said, "The opinions of female migrant returnees have no value in most families at present. No one believes them in society. Around 17% of the workers have been subjected to unwarranted behavior at the airport by family members as they returned from abroad. Around 15% of them have been divorced while the husbands of 11% have abandoned them. Around 28% of the female returnees are facing problems in their marital life."
However, despite the persecution, some female migrant returnees have been able to change their situation.
One of them, Nilufar Begum, a migrant returnee from Jashore, said, "I faced a lot of obstacles. My employer used to beat me when I made a silly mistake. I ran away from my first employer. My travel documents were confiscated. People from my community abroad refused to assist me. But I did not lose hope. I was stubborn. I told myself that unless I changed my economic situation, I would not return."
Abul Hossain, an adviser to the National Domestic Women Workers Union, told The Business Standard, "Domestic workers mostly become victims of physical, mental and sexual violence abroad. Most of the incidents happen in the Middle East. The Bangladesh government should compel all these countries to act in accordance with the ILO law, and demand compensation for their rehabilitation."
BILS Executive Council Member Shakil Akhter Chowdhury said, "There are no accurate statistics on how many women workers are going abroad and returning. However, the government and international law have a responsibility to rehabilitate all these affected female migrant returnees."