When thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers are being sent back from countries around the world amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has come up with a piece of good news.
"Some African countries have shown interest in recruiting around 40 lakh Bangladeshis in the agriculture sector," Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said Friday.
"Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, and The Gambia want to recruit 40 lakh workers for agricultural work. Our ambassadors are working on it.
"This has created an opportunity for us amid the difficult times of Covid-19," the minister said in a video message.
Around 2.5 lakh Bangladeshis are working in different African countries, according to unofficial estimates. Among them, more than 1 lakh are in South Africa where most of the Bangladeshis are self-employed.
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), around 1.22 lakh Bangladeshis have been employed in Libya since 1976.
Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said Bangladeshis are working in different companies in Libya that are conducting various activities including construction.
"Most of the Bangladeshis go to Africa through unofficial process," he added.
Job opportunities have shrunk worldwide amid the pandemic.
According to the Brac Migration Programme, around 7 lakh Bangladeshis returned home from different countries during January-March this year.
Around 2-2.5 lakh of them are migrant workers.
Around 11,000 came back through special flights since the enforcement of the general holidays in late March.
Recruiting agencies said some 1.5 lakh Bangladeshis with visa could not go abroad for jobs during March-April.
And there is no certainty if they can go back when the flight operations resume.
Migration experts and recruiting businesses fear that several lakh Bangladeshi migrants might return home in the coming months after losing jobs – mostly from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Some countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, The Maldives, the UAE, and Qatar are considering to send Bangladeshi workers back, according to the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry.
About the issue, Dr Momen said, "We urged different countries not to send our workers back amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of them responded positively to our call."
"I talked to the foreign minister of the UAE on June 11. He told me to take our migrant workers back. But I requested him to use them in the agriculture sector. And he considered it a good proposal."
"I told the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait that our migrant workers converted their deserts into green lands. So, they can use our human resources on agriculture production."
While the government is trying to persuade the Middle Eastern countries not to send Bangladeshi workers back, the new labour market in Africa can be a big window of employment opportunity for many Bangladeshis.
Baira Secretary General Noman said, "We can explore the African migration destinations in the post-covid-19 period.
"Also, there will be many job opportunities, around the world, in the health sector in the post-Covid-19 period. We can use our young workforce, which is big in number, in new destinations including Africa and Europe.
"We need to reduce our dependency on the Middle Eastern countries and ensure quality migration," he added.
Shariful Hasan, head of Brac's migration programme, said, "We heard about the opening of the African market for Bangladeshi workers around one decade ago. The news was published in mass media. But we did not see any development after that.
"It will be an advancement for our labour market if we can catch the African market now."