BANGLADESHI BREAD-WINNERS SHUNNED BY GOVT
- BANGLADESHI BREAD-WINNERS SHUNNED BY GOVT
An NNN-AMIC Special Report by Siraj Shahjahan
DHAKA, Dec 22 (NNN-AMIC) -- There are more than seven million people from Bangladesh who are working abroad, a significant portion of them unskilled people, mainly men, who face many problems while overseas.
The Bangladesh government it seems does not have any safety nets to help them out when they are in trouble overseas, especially with non-payment of wages and debt burdens resulting from hefty placement fees charged by recruitment agents.
"What is the reason for this problem ? That is the main reason indeed we have to identify," says Hazrat Ali, the Assistant Secretary of the Labour Ministry. "The people who are not skilled, they are facing problems."
"If these people remain in Bangladesh they would have been unemployed and the government would have to take the responsibility for them for their feeding, livelihood and all the other things. But as they are migrating to other countries they are taking on their own responsibility and with this migration, neither the government or the civil society are supporting them," notes Shifa Hafiz, the Director of Gender Justice, Diversity and Advocacy, at the non-governmental organization (NGO) BRAC.
"It is mostly through the recruiting agencies they are migrating. (These) recruiting agencies are exploiting them."
Remittances have emerged as the key driver of economic growth in Bangladesh, increasing at an average rate of 10 per cent annually for the past 30 years. Revenues from remittances now exceed foreign exchange inflows of both official development assistance (ODA) and net earnings of exports.
The bulk of these remittances are sent by migrant workers, working especially in the Middle East, under harsh conditions.
There have been widespread allegations of ruthless exploitation of these migrant workers by recruitment agents both in Bangladesh and overseas, yet, though they are the major foreign exchange earners for the country, the Bangladesh government has not been in the forefront in helping them out.
Tahmina's story is testimony to this fact. She is a poor rural woman from the Dinajpur district whose husband died 17 years ago and she was left with three sons and a daughter to support. Unable to feed them, she decided to go overseas to work.
"It was very hard to live and we could not have proper meal, so we came to Dhaka. I was doing household work there and my elder son worked in a stall. After some time I joined a garments factory. I had a neighbour, Ruston Ali, who said I should go abroad for a better life. He told that his wife work in Dubai and he would help me to go there. I had to pay 80,000 Taka (about 1,135 USD)," she explained.
"I said it is a very big amount for me. But he said try hard if you can manage the money to go there, after few days you can take your son there. Then he got me a passport and medical tests were done. He said, that if I try to manage the rest of the money my visa will come soon. Then after one month he said my visa has come and demanded the rest of the money. I had to take a forty thousand Taka loan from a person at 10 per cent interest and give him the money. Then after 15 days he came to me and said today is your flight. When I had reached the airport he told me that I am going to Lebanon. I said I will not go to Lebanon, but he convinced me and said that I will get good salary, near twelve thousand taka (USD 170) a month."
Her first week in Lebanon went smoothly, but after that troubles started. "They were very cruel to me," Thamina recalled. "They didn't give me proper meals. They tortured me physically and mentally. For six months I didn't eat rice. I was very ill in that time then one day my son called me. I told him everything, and said that please save me from here. He went to Rustom Ali. He demanded 70,000 taka more to bring me home. My son didn't have the money but he was trying. Then suddenly he found BRAC and BRAC rescued me from Lebanon."
Such exploitation happens because some people are made to believe by recruitment agents that in the Middle East, the streets are virtually paved in gold. So they sell all their assets to go overseas to reach that pot of gold only to find later that they have been misled.
This is another of such stories as told by a former migrant labourer who went to Saudi Arabia, who did not want to be named.
"I went to Saudi Arabia with the help of a relative after paying 400,000 taka. I worked there as a caretaker of sheep but my boss didn't give me any money," he said, adding, "They didn't even give me proper food. My boss came some time in a while and he brought chicken for us. But when I demanded my salary he became very angry and beat me. Eleven months I didn't get any salary."
Since he was not paid he left the job and went first to work in Mecca, where a Bangladeshi gave him a job and paid him 49,000 taka after two months. "I requested one of my co-worker to help me to send the money to my family. He took all the money and called the police. Then the police arrested me and put me in jail. The police destroyed all of my documents and took the little amount of money I had," he explained. "I wasn't able to get any help from anyone. I was one month in the Jail and then senr back to my country."
Before he went to Saudi Arabia he had a farm in Bangladesh with almost 900 ducks. "I had sold the farm and also sold some of the land to go to Saudi Arabia. Now I work as a day labourer and my wife works in a garments factory," he said.
The Bangladesh government is well aware that their workers are being exploited like this but argues that they cannot stop people from going abroad. As Hazrat Ali explains, "We cannot stop it because the people of our country always think that if they can go abroad they will get something like a golden dear.
"But, shouldn't the government take responsibility to educate the people? Even change their mindsets? They have been cheated through the recruiting agencies, middle man (because) they don't have any proper information," argues Saiful Haque, the Chief of WARB Foundation.
"There should be a regulatory framework where the recruiting agencies and the middleman can go through some of the regulatory process where they cannot cheat the migrant workers. There is not much law in our country (to protect) migrant workers, but the recruiting agencies have their business protection.
"The government has set up vocational training centres to send out more skilled workers overseas with the hope that they will earn more and remit home more. But, they have not moved, even though legislation exists, to crack down on unscrupulous recruitment agents who exploit the migrant workers."
Shifa Hafiz of BRAC argues that labour migration in Bangladesh should be seen as a human rights issue. "Most often when the labor migrants enter the aircraft they are becoming undocumented. The documents are mostly kept by the recruiting agency, particularly in case of female migrants, they are taking the female migrants outside of the countries and once they are outside these female migrants have no address, no connection with the outside world even with their own family. So whenever they are either sick, ill, pregnant or even if they are dead they have no identification. So migration is very much a violation of human rights in this country," she observes.
"Nobody is taking the responsibility for the poor migrants who are earning currency for the country and totally sacrificing their life for the livelihood for their families."
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