Bangladeshi migrants face challenges (Series-1)

Temporary labour migration is often touted as a triple-win: a win for destination countries that can support a level of economic activity that would be impossible without foreign labour; a win for countries of origin because it lowers unemployment and brings in remittances and skills; and a win for the migrants who can earn more income and escape poverty. 

In South Asia, the largest movement of migrant workers is to the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states. Latest data places the total estimated annual outflow from five countries in South Asia at 2.5 million migrant workers. More than 90 per cent of all migrant workers from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka take jobs in a GCC country. Bangladesh and Nepal send more than 65 per cent of their migrant workers to the GCC region and the majority of the others to Malaysia.

Despite the substantial benefits generated by the South Asia–GCC migration flow, many challenges remain to ensure a fairer distribution of the triple-win profits. Large-scale temporary labor migration, from South Asian Countries, which has increased substantially over the past three decades, has significant economic impacts. Bangladesh receives over $15b as remittance in 2015 by sending around 5,00,000 migrants to different countries during the period.  

Still migrant workers incur huge amount of social & economic costs through labour migration process. Private recruitment agencies recruit the majority of Bangladeshi workers. Moreover, a large number of migrants obtain work permit through illegal subagents or intermediaries commonly known as “Dallas”. 

These dalals lack legal valid documents and approval to send workers to destination countries. It leaves the migrants no way but to force to go through illegal or irregular channels. This happens vice versa too. Many migrants get things legally done at sending countries but their migration later in the process in the destination countries end up as illegal migrants. 

Kafala System:
Over the years, Gulf States have instituted a sponsorship system (kafala) which is the legal basis for residency and employment. Migrant workers receive an entry visa and a residence permit only if a GCC citizen or a GCC institution employs them. Sponsorship requires the sponsor-employer to assume the full economic and legal responsibility for the employee during the contract period. This system requires that the worker can only work for the sponsor and renders workers entirely dependent on their contract in order to remain in the country. The kafala system has been created to provide the central government with a means to regulate labor flow into GCC States and monitor workers’ activities to mitigate security concerns.

The unethical recruitment practices basically triggered by the middleman or Dalals need to be controlled by law. Since the cost charged by the middleman is illegal, it remains undocumented. Dalals have been used by the recruiting agencies not by wish but by force. Recruitment agencies have restrictions to open sub –offices in the district level so they are forced to depend on Dallas. Dalals are known people in the community of the potential workers by which the family member can access their name easily than recruitment agencies. 

Visa Trading:
Presence of subagents or middlemen in the destination countries enhances selling of visa from the destination countries. Visa trading in GCC countries and subsequent competition by recruitment agencies lead to the higher migration cost. Migration fees so paid even to the recruitment agencies or to the middlemen are not accumulated, and the migrants are never given a receipt of the same. This makes the government authorities in Bangladesh and countries of destination hard to regulate recruitment and migrant costs.

Debt Bondage:
When workers must pay exorbitant fees as a condition of obtaining employment, they must often go into debt and end up in the hands of unregulated money lenders who charge high interest rates which push even the migration cost higher. This is due to lack of government regulated funding agencies lending access to the final credit system with less interest. 

Unclear Contract of Employment:
Non- availability of the original contracts being translated in then local languages often ends up migrants doing the wrong job and even getting paid lesser than what was offered. Moreover recruiting agencies hide pertinent information from both the employer and from the prospective migrants. For example when an employer asks for semi-skilled workers, the recruiter agencies provide them with low or even unskilled workers. When the employer finds out the incumbent could not perform the task as required by the skill levels they decline to pay their salary originally agreed, and reduce their salaries far below the agreed salary. 

The right of migrant worker to form an association has not been translated into action both in destination countries and countries of immigration. The exercise of such a right would enable migrant to collectively raise the issues of unethical labour migration practices in national and international platforms.

The awareness among potential migrant workers regarding the labour recruitment and migration process is very low. The immediate need in the context of migration issues is an effective mechanism for the dissemination of knowledge.

Low Salary in the pretext of high overtime: 
Many employers in GCC do agree that their companies provide huge amount of overtime whereby the salary is kept low and they claim the gross salary exceeds from their normal salary. But actually this is forced labor in the form of an excessive working hour. 

Social isolation and absence of remedy: 
International migrants may often find themselves to be isolated not only physically but by the language and culture. Social isolation and anti-foreigner sentiment in host countries can leave migrant workers exposed to abuse and short of remedies.

Writer is an international migration expert & GM Bashundhara Employment Services, Qatar



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