The government has decided to launch special flights for Bangladeshi migrants to five countries from Saturday amid the stricter lockdown measures introduced to curb the second wave of Covid-19 infections.
The Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh (CAAB) made the disclosure after a virtual meeting with officials from ministries concerned and other stakeholders on Thursday, adding that the flights will only be available to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Singapore.
CAAB will designate 100-120 special flights in those five countries. The decision was made as thousands of migrants remain stuck in Bangladesh amid the lockdown, and they may lose their jobs if they fail to reach their destination countries in time.
In an earlier meeting held virtually on Wednesday, authorities decided that it is the responsibility of recruiting agencies to bring foreign-bound migrant workers to the airport in compliance with health guidelines, along with Covid-19 negative certificates.
Authorities also decided that expatriate workers will be able to come home from abroad only in case of emergencies, by obtaining clearance from the concerned Bangladesh mission and complying with all quarantine measures in Bangladesh.
That meeting was chaired by the foreign secretary, and participated by senior officials from the Prime Minister's Office, Secretaries of the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, Chairman of Civil Aviation.
The managing director of Biman and other high officials also participated in the meeting.
Migrants' suffering continue
Many Bangladeshi migrants – who have confirmed tickets and are ready to head back to their workplaces – flocked to the Saudi Airlines office in Hotel Sonargaon on Thursday. Both aspirant and stranded migrants are suffering due to the uncertainty centring flights.
Saudi migrant Yar Khan told The Business Standard, "I left Narsingdi right after Fajr prayers, and paid 5-7 times more fare to visit the airlines office for any updates. But the office was closed, and the police removed us from the premises.
"My flight is on the 18 April, but I have received no updates so far. My validity of my visa ends this month. My boss in Saudi Arabia said I will lose my job if I fail to get to my workplace within this period."
Another migrant from Cumilla named Md Ibrahim was standing cluelessly in front of the Hotel Sonargaon. He said, "I have a confirmed ticket to Saudi Arabia, my flight is on 17 April and my visa is valid till 20 April.
"But I cannot go to the Saudi Airlines office for updates on the matter. The police have removed me from the area a couple of times, and they threatened me with a case and fine if I go there again."
Adding that he is on the verge of losing his job, Ibrahim said, "In the name of lockdown, the government should not kill those who send back remittance."
A migrant named Shah Alam said, "My flight was tonight (Thursday), and I came to Dhaka from Brahmanbaria. The validity of my visa will end on 24 April. I still do not know whether I can reach Saudi Arabia or not in time.
"The news said everything will remain open, but I found the airline's office closed after coming here."
On Sunday, CAAB in a circular said the latest suspension of international flights would come into effect at 12:01am (Bangladesh time) on 14 April and will continue till 11:59pm on 20 April.
However, medical evacuation, humanitarian and relief activities, cargo transportations, technical landing for refueling only, and flights cleared under special consideration will remain out of the purview of the suspension, it read.