- Govt creates Tk700cr fund to assist returnees
- Project proposal seeking Tk2,000-2,500cr from donors in pipeline
- Around 2.5 lakh migrant workers returned since January
- Govt also seeking alternative labour markets in Africa and Europe
- Agriculture and heath sectors will be prioritised
As countries across the globe continue to send back thousands of migrant workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bangladeshi government is working to create self-employment opportunities for returnees.
The government is also looking for new labour market destinations, especially in the agriculture sector. Along with its own fund, the government is planning to seek donor assistance for this purpose.
Bangladesh has already created two separate funds totalling Tk700 crore to assist the returnees amid the pandemic. Under the allocation, the returnees will get loans with a low interest rate from Probashi Kallyan Bank for engaging in businesses and self-employment activities.
"Tk500 crore will come from the declared stimulus package of Tk2,000 crore for the jobless, while Wage Earners' Welfare Board will provide another fund of Tk200 crore to the Probashi Kallyan Bank," said Md Jashim Uddin, deputy managing director of that bank.
He added that the policy for loan disbursement is yet to be finalised, and a meeting will be held on July 5 in this regard.
Meanwhile, Wage Earners' Welfare Board Director General Md Hamidur Rahman said, "From the Tk200 crore fund, a returnee will be able to take Tk1-5 lakh at 4 percent interest. They can take a loan for any sector among the selected 39, including fisheries, poultry, livestock, agriculture and other businesses."
He hopes that the Probashi Kallyan Bank will be able to disburse the loans from the middle of this month.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment is looking for funds from donors for the migrant returnees.
Md Musharraf Hossain, additional secretary (Planning and Development Wing) of the ministry, said, "The ministry and Wage Earners' Welfare Board are working on a project proposal. After finalising it, the proposal will be sent to the divisions concerned for advance processing.
"We are seeking a fund of around Tk2,000-2,500 crore for migrant returnees under this project," said the welfare board's Director General Md Hamidur Rahman.
More than 1.02 crore migrants are working in 174 countries across the globe. Job opportunities have shrunk throughout the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the Brac Migration Programme, around 7 lakh Bangladeshis have returned from different countries from January to March this year, and at least 2-2.5 lakh among them are migrant workers.
After the shutdown began in late March, around 16,000 migrants have returned till mid-June through special flights.
A recent survey by Brac reveals that amid the pandemic, 87 percent of the country's migrant returnees are still struggling under their changed circumstances, as they do not have any source of income yet.
More importantly, 52 percent of the returnees said they need financial aid on an emergency basis.
Migration experts and recruiting businesses are concerned that several lakh Bangladeshi migrants might return home in the coming months after losing jobs, mostly from the Middle East.
Alternative labour market in agriculture, health
While the traditional labour market is shrinking, the government is seeking alternative labour markets for Bangladeshi workers, especially in Africa and the European countries.
Last month, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said some African countries have shown interest in recruiting around 40 lakh Bangladeshi workers in the agriculture sector.
"Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Gambia are interested in recruiting Bangladeshi workers. Our ambassadors are working on it," the minister had said.
Recently, Dr Momen requested Spain's Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya to take agricultural workers from Bangladesh.
"Bangladesh is the fourth-largest producer of rice and fifth largest producer of vegetables in the world. So, Spain can employ the agricultural workers of Bangladesh after the Covid-19 situation is over," he had stated.
Besides, the government is using diplomatic channels to keep Bangladeshi migrants employed in host countries.
Addressing this issue, the foreign minister said, "We have urged different countries not to send back our migrant workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"I told the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that our migrant workers have converted their deserts into greenery. So, they can utilise our human resources for agricultural production."
Along with agriculture, the health sector will bring another possibility of employment in different countries, according to insiders.
Sources said the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are searching for job opportunities in potential job markets by communicating through diplomatic channels.
Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said, "We have seen the fragile condition of health sectors throughout the world due to the pandemic.
"The governments of different countries will prioritise their health sector during the post-Covid-19 period and they will make major investments. This in turn will create a big opportunity of employment."
He added that Bangladesh has a large youth population which we can use for overseas employment in the health sector.
"We have a good opportunity for employment in European countries such as Romania, Poland, Portugal and Moldova," the Baira secretary general said.
Raquib Mohammad Fakhrul, president of Bangladesh Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and industry (BMCCI), said, "The focus should be to have capable and fit manpower after the pandemic. The world has learned the need for more health professionals in a hard way.
"So, the health sector will be booming. A diploma in this sector might be an added advantage. Health workers can be exported worldwide as well."