A report by British daily The Guardian revealed that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar over the last 10 years. Of them, more than one thousand workers are from Bangladesh.
The fact that more than one thousand Bangladeshi workers have died in Qatar in the last decade is simply the tip of the iceberg.
Over the last 14 years, more or less 40 thousand Bangladeshi migrant workers have died. Of all Bangladeshi workers' deaths, 61 percent occurred in the Middle East countries, especially in Saudi Arabia. On average, one thousand migrant workers die in Saudi Arabia every year. For the last few years, on an average, 100 Bangladeshi migrant workers died in Qatar annually.
If we take into account the total death figure in the Middle Eastern countries, the figure of Qatar is not that significant. However, each and every life matters.
If we look at the main reasons behind the death of our migrant workers, we find brain stroke, heart attack, and heat stroke as some of the common causes. The death is considered as natural death in papers. The age is however a very important factor in these cases because most of the deceased's age is between 28 to 30.
Why did those young men die of these kinds of diseases? Doing some investigations, we have found that most of them work long hours in the desert in which sometimes, the temperature touches even 50 degree Celsius.
Then they come to their place where they have to live in congested rooms filled with other workers. They live there without their family members; they constantly worry over their income. These are the main reasons behind the death of around three thousand every year in Middle Eastern countries. What happened in Qatar is not an isolated incident.
We cannot say that they have died in their workplaces because these are, at least, in paper natural deaths.
Where we need to put more emphasis on is why such a large number of Bangladeshi migrant workers are dying every year in foreign lands. I think we need to investigate the real cause of their deaths. If we come to know the real cause, then we will be able to bring down the number of deaths.
The environment of the country is very important in this regard. Many migrant workers do not take the environment seriously. We have to prepare our migrant workers for adapting their lifestyle in line with the destination country's environment. We will have to make them aware of their lifestyle in the Middle Eastern countries where meat and cigarettes are very cheap. We need to make them aware of some basic knowledge on what they should eat and what not.
If we can make them health-conscious, the number of such unfortunate deaths in the Middle Eastern countries can be brought down. Our foreign offices will have to play a role in that.
Safety measures in workplace are not always maintained properly in many Middle Eastern countries. There are many migrant workers who die from fire-related accidents. Non-compliance of homes is also a cause behind the huge number of deaths.
Our foreign office will have to monitor these issues. We have seen in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic that many of our migrant workers contracted coronavirus because they live in congested rooms. The authorities of those countries should also take care of these issues.
When a migrant worker dies, his whole family suffers because the family has sent him abroad spending a lot of money. When a migrant worker dies, his whole family falls into a deep crisis.
Our government will have to have regular discussion on labour rights and safety of our workers. The recruiting agency will have to ensure that our workers are not being deprived of their promised salaries. Our embassies should pay regular visits to the places where our migrant workers live and work.
I think it is high time manpower exporting countries should form an alliance to put pressure on manpower importing countries to comply with labour rights.
Shariful Hasan is the programme head of BRAC's Migration Programme.