- 50,000 women returned home during pandemic
- 35% of them faced physical torture
- 52.2% were psychologically harassed
- 11% female migrants were sexually abused
Around 52% respondents of female returnee migrants amid the Covid-19 pandemic were tortured or harassed at their workplaces in destination countries, reveals a recent study by the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit (RMMRU).
Among them, 35% were physically tortured, 52.2% were psychologically harassed and 11% confirmed that they were sexually abused in the destination countries. The study, "Gender Based Violence: Female Returnee migrants & Left-behind families of the migrants," was released on Thursday at Hotel Intercontinental in the capital.
153 respondents (92 female returnee migrants and 61 left-behind families of the migrants) of 42 districts of Bangladesh were interviewed in September and October this year.
The returnees were from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, Malaysia, Maldives, Hong Kong, Australia and Mauritius.
According to the migrant welfare desks at Dhaka airport, 4.8 lakh expatriates returned home during the pandemic, with around 50,000 of them being women.
The migrants were mostly tortured by their Kafeels and Kafeels' wives, but some also confirmed that they were tortured by agency officials, notes the research.
Once they returned, 22% of them ran into a series of problems, including social stigma, broken marriage, sickness, etc.
Among the returnees, the majority of respondents confirmed that they were tortured both physically and psychologically by their husbands.
Some also reported harassment by their in-laws and moneylenders.
Around 10 lakh Bangladeshi female workers have been employed abroad, especially in the Middle East, since 1991, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).
According to both government and non-government data, thousands of Bangladeshi women migrant workers had to return home empty-handed, especially from the Middle East, after being subjected to torture.
At least 487 migrant workers have returned home in coffins in the last five years. Of them, 200 women alone died in Saudi Arabia.
Apart from the deaths, the severity of mental and physical trauma on the migrant women was so high that many women returned home after losing their mental sanity.
"Besides, after returning home, they faced further mental torture at the hands of their relatives and neighbours," said Dr Tasneem Siddiqui, founding chair of RMMRU, said while presenting the study.
"The economic gains of migration are enjoyed by the nation at large as well as by the households of migrants. But the social costs of migration are mostly borne by individual household members --- the left behind husbands, wives, children, elderly and siblings," she added.
The various social costs of migration were discussed at the event, notably loneliness, lack of companionship, being overburdened with additional responsibilities, loss of grip over children, social perceptions of failure as breadwinners, psycho-social stress, emotional breakdown, conflict between husband and wife, fear of physical and sexual insecurity of wives in destination countries.
The speakers said that the left-behind men are looked down upon by society. They constantly hear hurtful and insulting comments, labelling them as incapable of earning and as failures surviving on wives' money.
"Awareness building should get the highest priority to protect labour rights in Bangladesh. We city dwellers are not ensuring many rights of our housemaids. Then how can we expect that foreign employers will be sincere in doing what we don't do?" said lawmaker and former state minister for labour and employment Mujibul Haque Chunnu.
However, he said that the combined efforts of all stakeholders, including the government, can develop a migrant-friendly environment.
Meanwhile, climate change-induced internal migration is occurring at an alarming level, leaving women and children mostly vulnerable, as revealed by another research study on the occasion.
There is no specific information available on the real number of women migrants who returned home in the face of torture and abuse.
But according to Bangladeshi missions abroad and media reports, more than 13,000 women returned home from Saudi Arabia in the 2016-2019 period.