Migrant workers and their families need to be brought under the safety net and other support schemes as the pandemic has caused much distress to them in the form of loss in jobs and incomes, said speakers at a virtual symposium yesterday.
The plight of migrants who have returned recently and who are still staying abroad without income, and their families in Bangladesh has come up in a research of Bangladesh Civil Society for the Migrants (BCSM), a platform of organisations working on migration.
The economic impact of Covid-19 led to lay-offs and pay cuts of migrants in the Middle East and other countries.
Hundreds of thousands have come back while many others have been trapped on foreign lands amid measures to contain the virus transmission. They are unable to work and hence cannot send remittance.
Their families have been suffering anxieties due to a lack of communication with the migrant workers and also because of being overburdened with debts taken to bear the expenditures as the remittance inflow has dried up, said Dr Tasneem Siddiqui, founder chair of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), while presenting the research findings.
The findings were shared in the programme organised jointly by the BCSM and the RMMRU.
During the research, 100 international migrant households and 100 returnees were interviewed over phone to understand their psychological, familial and economic status.
A gender perspective was also drawn from varied situations for female and male migrant workers and their family members.
Migrants, who have been laid off, are concerned over the expiry of their work permit and visa, and are spending days in fear of arrest.
Female migrants working as domestic helps and living in employers' residences are being deprived of payments but are forced to overwork.
About 61 percent of the households said they did not receive remittances in the last three months and those who received got less than what they used to get during pre-coronavirus period.
However, female migrants remitted more, 69 percent, than male migrants, 30 percent. Fifty-seven percent of the families said remittance was their only source of income.
The households that have not been receiving remittance have resorted to take loans, depended on income of other family members and cut expenditures on necessities, including food. Many have stopped consumptions of fish, meat and egg.
The study found that the monthly expenditure of each family on an average dropped to Tk7,300 from Tk17,000. Amid the economic crisis, female members of the family are being subject to violence, rape and murder.
Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad, who was present as the chief guest, acknowledged the gravity of the situation migrants, returnees and their family members are facing.
He said a drastic slump in oil prices that the Gulf economies rely upon has halted development programmes there. Besides, locals have been getting priorities in the Middle Eastern job markets over migrant workers, increasing economic pressure on the sending countries.
A database will be created and further discussions will be held to finalise plans for their reintegration into the economy, the minister said.