- Non-refundable tickets to make workers face losses
- Hotel quarantine payments also non-refundable
- Baira, Atab seek special consideration to operate flights for migrants
- If migrants cannot fly, their visas may expire
- Employers' demand letters may be cancelled too
Ashraful Islam, 34, of Jashore was scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia on 20 April to work as a cleaner at a hotel.
But he would not be able to leave as the civil aviation authority has suspended all international flights to and from Bangladesh during the weeklong lockdown starting today.
Ashraful is not alone. At least 21,000 Bangladeshi migrants were scheduled to fly to their destinations, mostly Middle Eastern countries, during this period, according to the Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh.
These migrants include both fresh and stranded ones, who have not been able to fly back yet due to the pandemic.
The civil aviation authority chairman told The Business Standard on Tuesday they were considering easing travel restrictions for migrants.
"I am working as an auto rickshaw driver in my village. But to earn more money, I decided to go abroad," Ashraful, a fresh migrant, told The Business Standard.
"I paid around Tk4.20 lakh, including Tk90,000 in ticket price, to a recruiting agency. I sold my property and borrowed money to manage migration costs," he added.
Lima Begum, proprietor of Zannat Overseas, told The Business Standard 16 Saudi Arabia-bound and 25 Dubai-bound migrants were scheduled to fly this week through her recruiting agency. "But they are now facing uncertainty."
Members of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) said tickets of various airlines are non-refundable and this would affect thousands of migrants who were to fly to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai, and Oman.
"Airlines are charging Tk80,000-90,000 on average for a ticket to the Middle Eastern countries while it was Tk20,000-22,000 before the pandemic. In addition, thousands of Qatar- and Oman-bound passengers paid a lot of money to book quarantine hotels, which is also non-refundable. They have to incur big losses," said Tipu Sultan, president of Recruiting Agencies Oikya Parishad, a body of manpower recruiters.
"If a worker is unable to fly as per the schedule, the employer can cancel the demand letter. Besides, visas of many workers will expire," he added.
Shamim Ahemd Chowdhury Noman, the immediate past secretary general of Baira, said, "Since destination countries have not imposed any restrictions on accepting workers, international flights should be operated in compliance with health rules to send migrants from Bangladesh. Source countries, including Nepal, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, are sending workers to different destinations even amid lockdowns as an emergency service."
"Bangladesh will lag behind other countries in the international labour market if it stops sending migrants," he added.
Baira fears that destination countries may show reluctance to recruit workers if informed that Bangladesh has suspended international flights due to spikes in Covid-19 infections.
A portion of Baira members sent a letter to Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad on Monday, requesting him to take steps to keep international flights open.
The letter said the decision to suspend international flights during the lockdown was suicidal and would destroy the manpower sector. It also demanded that this sector be included in emergency services.
The minister assured them of discussing the matter with the higher authorities.
Meanwhile, the Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh has urged the government to continue international flights so that both stranded and fresh migrants can fly to their destinations.
They arranged a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity in this regard on Tuesday.
"The visas of many stranded migrants who could not fly back as per the schedules expired during the first wave. Many of them are still at home as their employers did not contact them later," said M Shahadat Hossain Toslim, president of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh.
"Migrants are being overcharged for tickets. The civil aviation authority can take action in this regard," he added.
Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh President Monsur Ahmed Kalam said not only travel agents but also the families of thousands of migrants would be the ultimate sufferers.
On Sunday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh 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 refuelling only, and flights cleared under special consideration will remain out of the purview of the suspension, read the circular.
Referring to the circular, M Mafidur Rahman, chairman of the civil aviation authority, said they had already permitted flights under special considerations.
"Our migrants may be eligible for this facility. We are considering easing the pertinent restrictions. As public transports will remain closed during the lockdown, we also have to consider how migrants will travel to the airport."
He added that a meeting would be held today (Wednesday) to discuss the matters.