Migrant rights activists on Thursday urged the government to stop sending the women migrant workers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries unless it takes responsibility to protect them at the destinations.
Speaking at a discussion, on occasion of celebrating international women’s day, they said that image of the country has been seriously tarnished by the frequent violations of the migrants’ rights abroad.
Bangladeshi female workers who are mostly employed as housemaids often fall victims of sexual abuse, denial of wages and tortures.
They made the remarks while speaking at the opinion exchange meeting, organized by WARBE Development Foundation at the National Press Club.
Labour leaders, civil society members, university teachers, students, returnee migrants and women leaders from various organizations took part in the discussions titled ‘Time is Now: Action for Protecting Women Migrants.’
Sharing her experience, returnee female migrant Shahnaj Begum said that she returned home four months ago from Jordan where she had worked for 30 months as housemaid.
Shahnaj who hailed from Lalbagh of Dhaka had migrated to Jordan in 2015 by paying Tk 60,000 to local broker but she had to face excessive works, insufficient foods and denial of her eight month wages.
Another migrant Jahanara Begum who returned from Saudi Arabia said that the young sons of the employer could not let her sleep in the night due to meet their ‘sexual desire.’
‘Three times I had to escape from the house of employer due to torture and abuse,’ she said, adding that the Saudi police later arrested and sent beck her home within eight of her migration.
Yesmin, another returnee from the KSA, also narrated bad experiences that she had been tortured, abused by her employer.
Speaking as panel discussant, Bangladesh Ovibashi Adhikar Forum’ chairman Nazmul Ahsan said that there were so many reports that Bangladeshi female migrants were being sexually abused by the male employers and their sons in the KSA.
As an official team from Bangladesh is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia on March 12, he said ‘our demand is to raise the issue with Saudi government to protect them immediately.’
‘Otherwise, not a single female worker should be sent abroad without protections.’ he said.
WARBE DF secretary general Faruque Ahmed said that the sending of female workers to the KSA on conditions of recruiting male workers from Bangladesh was tarnishing the dignity and image of the country.
‘Overseas countries have certain demand of migrant workers, so they will have to recruit workers under Bilateral Agreements, stipulating all rights,’ he demanded.
Faruque, also a returnee migrant turned rights activist, said that ‘If the government fails to take responsibility to ensure protection of the female workers at workplaces, we are calling to stop sending the women abroad.’
For an immediate measure of protection, he had proposed that the female workers should be allowed to spend their night at dormitories with other housemaids from Bangladesh under supervision of Bangladesh authorities.
Dhaka University international relations’ associate professor Tanzim Uddin Khan said that it was the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens and expatriates who were facing problems at home and abroad.
‘If there is issue of the female migrant in danger abroad, it will be more important for the stare to protect them,’ he said.
Tanzim Uddin described the migrant workers as ‘blood cells’ and ‘hearts of the country’s economy’ said that the state should immediately take responsibility to protect the migrant workers facing problems abroad.
WARBE DF chairman Syed Saiful Haque who presided over the meeting said that it would be impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals without ensuring the equal rights of the female workers at home and abroad.
Trade union leader Abul Hossain called upon the female folks to raise their voices to build their own fates.
National Domestic Women Workers Union general secretary Murshida Akhter demanded that the government should enact law immediately in accordance with Domestic Workers’ Protection and Welfare Policy 2015.
She also urged the government to ratify the ILO Convention 189 that upholds immigrant workers’ rights including access to decent jobs, proper wages, health safety and other occupational rights abroad.
WARBE DF director Jasiya Khatoon, who moderated the discussion, said that the government was playing weak role in protecting rights of the country’s migrants facing problems in the Middle East.
In the morning, WARBE Development Foundation, the grassroots migrants organizer, had formed a human chain in front of National Press Club in expressing its solidarity with celebration of International Women’s Day.