Expatriates in Brahmanbaria district have been having a difficult time since their return from abroad. Most of them have lost their source of income and the visas of many have expired. Now, they are witnessing an extreme financial crisis.
Faruk Ahmed, a resident of Aruail village in Sarail upazila of Brahmanbaria, is spending his days facing hardship.
"I was abroad for 16 years. Everyone thinks I have made a lot of money. In fact, I have nothing. My entire seven-member family depends on me. I also lost my job abroad because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus," said Faruk Ahmed.
He said that he was trying to do something in the country but failed. He also had to sell his smartphone to meet his family's expenses.
To maintain their families, some of them have taken loans at high-interest rates. Consequently, the returnees are spending their days in uncertainty with the burden of unemployment and debt.
They do not even know if they can go back abroad at all.
Recently, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) published a report titled "Rapid Assessment of Needs and Vulnerabilities of Internal and International Return Migrants in Bangladesh."
According to the report, around 70 percent of returnees, between February and June, were then unemployed. On average, an immigrant provides assistance to three of his or her family members.
A recent press release from IOM says that they surveyed, between May and July 2020, in 12 high-migration prone districts of Bangladesh. Among the districts, seven of them have borders with India.
The outbreak of Covid-19 has forced thousands of migrant workers to return to Bangladesh from the country where they worked. It happened as they did not have a source of income, social services, healthcare, and social support networks.
Brahmanbaria is one of the high-migration prone districts of the country. About three lakh people of this district live in different countries of Europe, the US and the Middle East. Their families rely on the income of all these expatriates.
Additionally, India has borders with three upazilas of Brahmanbaria.
Since the novel coronavirus outbreak until August 5, some 13,037 expatriates have returned to Brahmanbaria from different countries, said sources in the district police.
Many of them have lost their jobs abroad and cannot get a job in the country as well because of the outbreak of Covid-19.
However, before the outbreak of Covid-19, these expatriates earned an average of Tk40,000-100,000.
Faruk Ahmed said that he used to work as a salesman in a cosmetics shop in Dubai. Usually, he sent Tk50,000 to his home every month. He was scheduled to leave for Dubai on March 19 after a three-month vacation. However, he could not go because flights were grounded.
In April, the shop owner phoned him from Dubai and informed him about his dismissal. He was also informed that a few other people had also been dismissed with him. The owner explained that he was witnessing a downtrend in the business.
"During vacations, I used to visit the country and maintained a luxurious lifestyle. However, I cannot describe the suffering I am experiencing because of the [novel] coronavirus. As I failed to go back to Dubai, I tried to do something in the country. I sought help from many but did not get any," he added.
Another expatriate, Sohel Rana, from the Charpara area of Nabinagar Upazila in Brahmanbaria, said he worked at a residence in Muscat, Oman.
He used to send Tk30-40 thousand to his home, per month. He came to Bangladesh in January, for a month, after being informed of his mother's sickness.
However, he could not go back to Oman because of the outbreak of Covid-19. Also, his visa has expired. He worries whether he would even be able to get back his job in Oman if flights resumed.
"I made phone calls to my employer many times but there was no response. Already I have taken out loans. I also tried to get some other job but could not get a suitable one for me," he said.
Md Akhtarul Islam of Islampur village under Bijaynagar upazila of Brahmanbaria returned from Saudi Arabia. He was in that country for 11 years and traded furniture with two of his brothers.
Though he was scheduled to leave for Saudi Arabia in March, after a four-month vacation, he is now trapped in the country. Moreover, his visa expired in July.
Distinguished people have demanded that the government take practical steps to help the remittance fighters to turn around at this time of the pandemic.
The Expatriate Welfare Association has also demanded that the government stand by the expatriates in these tough times with financial assistance.
Shafiqul Alam Swapan, vice-president of the Brahmanbaria Expatriate Welfare Association, said that the Bangladeshis who have returned from abroad are in an extreme financial crisis.
"They are unable to do anything in the country due to a lack of money. Many have become indebted to maintain their families. Government assistance is much needed to alleviate the suffering of the expatriates," he said.
"Remittances sent by the expatriates have boosted the country's growth. However, many of them are helpless today because of the [novel] coronavirus pandemic. So, if the expatriates are allowed to do business with special interest-free loans, they may get some relief," said Pijush Kanti Acharya, president of the District Citizens Forum.
Hayat-ud-Dowla Khan, the deputy commissioner of Brahmanbaria, said SME and agricultural loans at four percent interest would be provided to expatriates who have become unemployed after returning to the country.
"Expatriate desks have also been opened at banks. Arrangements will be made to provide loans to those who contact the UNOs, or us, to report their inconvenience," he said.