At the onset of 2020, the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has left the whole world in a trauma - uncertainty and distress leading us to the mental and economic disasters. The ongoing recession has already hit our migrant workers, working mainly in the Gulf States such as Bahrain, Kuwait, KSA, Oman, Qatar and the UAE, very hard.
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), each year, around 600,000 workers migrate from Bangladesh in search for better livelihood opportunities abroad. Their laborious efforts to change their lots creates the scope for the country to achieve huge remittance, making these workers play a very significant role in our economy.
For example, last year migrant workers contributed around $18 billion remittance to Bangladesh. They are our frontline fighters to national development.
But it is very unfortunate that due to worldwide lockdown in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus many host countries are thinking of returning the workers back to their own countries. As a result, a huge number of workers are likely to lose jobs while many others are facing forced deportation. Those who are lucky are struggling to retain their work and they are poorly-paid in these unprecedented days.
Migrant workers in these countries have reported that their work permits are not being renewed. Even those who have years of work experience have faced cancellation of work permits and consequently a large number of migrants have returned to Bangladesh. Of them, the lion's share has faced deportation.
Reports from the ministry indicate that hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are expected to return to Bangladesh once host countries relax restrictions and airlines resume flights. For many of these migrants, it is not a happy homecoming as they have lost their source of income due to global recession.
The World Bank has estimated that there may be a 20 percent decline in international remittance this year, while the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia has predicted 1.7 million job losses in the Arab region.
Those who are in the hosting countries trying to keep body and soul together are faced with a dire situation. They have inadequate and crowded living conditions, limited access to healthcare and basic services, poor working conditions and exploitative labor systems, which have compounded, more than 10 times, the possibility of being infected by Covid-19, and in many cases, leading to death for want of proper treatment.
However, there are laws internationally to protect migrant workers. For example, according to the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975, "One (migrant) shall enjoy equality of treatment with nationals in respect in particular of guarantees of security of employment, the provision of alternative employment, relief work or retraining."
But the treatments they have been receiving on all fronts are hardly equal.
As the unemployed youth of the country with poor skills are attracted in huge numbers to fly to the Middle East, human traffickers have been exploiting migrant workers for years and putting their lives at risk.
In recent times, trafficking is on the rise and this has dented the image of the country in the host countries, which further poses a serious threat to our migrant workers surviving in these lands.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi migrant workers' rights campaigners and diaspora leaders have claimed that amid the corona outbreak migrant workers are facing discrimination and hatred and denial of services at home and in their destination countries. This is happening because a misconception has spread that migrant workers are carrying the virus and spreading to different places.
The unprecedented crisis has already depressed the local job market. So during this crisis, migrant workers returning from abroad could deepen the catastrophe in the country.
So to ease the existing crisis, experts recommend the government come to an agreement with host countries and look for new job markets for the returnees when the situation improves.
Besides they should be given monetary help, medical facilities and steps should be taken for their social reintegration.
Many experts have said that the returnee migrants should be given loans on easy terms and provided training to learn new skills so that in the post-pandemic time they can find new jobs.
The author teaches at Prime University. He can be reached at: [email protected].