The number of Bangladeshi Diaspora's death in the Middle East has increased considerably in the past few years compared to years earlier. Previously, most of the deaths were attributed to work or vehicle-related accidents and now the majority of deaths are due to multi-organ failure, strokes, chronic diseases, and occasionally, torture by employers or human traffickers.
A marginal increase in suicidal deaths is on the peak due to depression, uncertainty, unemployment, family, and borrower pressure back home. While boarding a plane for the first time onto a voyage to a foreign land everybody dreams for a better life but some dreams get fulfilled and some end up in a confined coffin with the deceased.
According to media reports over 14,000 migrant worker's dead bodies were returned to Bangladesh in five years starting from 2014, with many more regularly buried in the destination country. Most of these unnatural deaths in exile occurred at a young age.
There are an estimated 14 million Bangladeshi expatriates living abroad; legally or illegally. In the fiscal year 2019-20, Bangladesh received a whopping $18.20 billion in official remittance and perhaps many more billions through illegal channels; popularly known as Hundi.
The role of foreign remittance in the Bangladesh economy is crucial as it has become the country's second-largest source of foreign currency earnings. To encourage to keep the memento of remittance inflow, the Bangladesh government introduced a cash incentive scheme under which a Bangladeshi national sending money back home gets 2% incentive from the government. The pioneering scheme had not only motivated expatriates to send their hard earned money through the legal channel but at the same time, it has rendered the illegal money laundering channels almost inactive.
Besides giving cash incentives, many more initiatives were taken by the government for the welfare of expatriate workers alias 'Probashi'. From April 2013 the current government introduced disbursing grants of Tk3 lakh to the immediate family of the deceased besides giving Tk35 thousand as financial assistance for transportation and cost of burial on the arrival of the corpse at the airport. Various Diaspora Forums demand that the grants be revised to 5 lacs and 50 thousand respectively.
Despite incurring losses and limited fleet capacity, Biman Bangladesh Airlines – the country's flag bearer – fly expatriates' corpse free of cost if recommended by Bangladesh embassy from the respective country. However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Biman has stopped carrying the dead bodies free of cost.
Even though not all dead bodies require and request for free-fly, the government may require only Tk24 crore or so to fly back the corpse at an average operational cost of Tk80,000 per body for approximately 3,000 deaths per annum. Hope the expatriate friendly current Government led by Sheikh Hasina will consider the plea rationally and sympathetically.
Undoubtedly, the amount of Tk24 crore is minimal for the government to commiserate with the sentiment of the very people who are remitting their sweat-soaked dollar to support their beloved country and government.
It is undeniable that their hard earned remittance is keeping our national exchequer warm; even in the worldwide coldness of economic recession or at the height of lockdown during the outspread of Coronavirus.
As to whether bringing in the dead bodies of expatriates is glory or burden for the nation – a million-dollar dichotomous question – remains at stake and only the Government has the answer for it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.