The government is making returnee Bangladeshi expatriates more skilled through training and continuing efforts to send them back to their respective working countries, said Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad.
"Diplomatic efforts are ongoing. Besides, the government is working to give loans to expatriates who are currently at home," the minister told a press briefing at his office Friday on the occasion of International Migrants Day.
Imran Ahmad said the government has undertaken several steps to rehabilitate them, including forming a database. However, due to a technical glitch in the database, the government does not currently have information about how many workers have rejoined work after the pandemic-led shutdown.
Assuring an immediate solution, he noted that more than 3.26 lakh Bangladeshi migrants have returned home owing to the pandemic's fallout. The minister said the government has arranged soft loans for returnee expatriates who could not or would not return to their previous workstations.
Imran Ahmad said there were some issues over the loans previously, but they have been resolved now. "If you want a loan, you will get it at home. If you want to return, the government will help in this regard," he added.
"Not a single country told us that they will not take the workers back," commented the minister, claiming that 80% of the stranded workers at home had already returned to Saudi Arabia.
At the press conference, the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment minister responded to queries from the press on Malaysian, Jordanian and Lebanon labour markets for Bangladeshis.
"We have talked to Malaysia several times and already had an unofficial meeting with its newly appointed minister. There are various labour-related issues and we do not want to compromise in this regard," he said.
On the Bangladeshi labour market in Jordan, the minister said, "It will take 12,000 garment workers from Bangladesh, mostly female workers. Jordanian garment factory Classic Fashion has shown interest in this regard. From the beginning of next year, Bangladesh Overseas Employment and Services Ltd will send people there at full government cost."
Regarding Bangladeshis who are stranded in Lebanon, the minister said the ministry is in touch with them round the clock, and the government is dedicated to bringing them back.
"We have already talked to the Biman Bangladesh Airlines about this," he added.
Returnee expats not interested in loans
According to the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, 443 returnee expats have taken out loans worth Tk18 crore so far.
The government allocated a total Tk700 crore – Tk200 crore from the Wage Earners Welfare Board and Tk500 crore from the prime minister's fund – for returnee expatriates during the pandemic-led crisis.
However, the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment minister said most of the returnee expats are not interested in taking out loans.
In the rehabilitation sector, the money is to be lent, on easy terms, through the Expatriate Welfare Bank to any legal representative of the expatriate who has returned abroad or died abroad.
A returnee expat or his family member – in case the migrant has died – qualifies for the loan through the Expatriate Welfare Bank.
However, those concerned have been complaining about harassment over loan distribution. Initially, the loan disbursement process was also coupled up to certain conditions.
Expatriates' Welfare Secretary Ahmed Munirush Salehin said the bank branches previously had doubts over loan disbursement, and there were other issues too.
"We have resolved those issues, and now I hope the amount of borrowing will increase manifold than what it was in the last six months," he added.
Salehin, also the Expatriate Welfare Bank chairman, noted that the borrowing process is no longer complicated.
"We have enabled the local branches to decide on their own over loan disbursement. The process has become much easier than before," he concluded.