According to government statistics, labor migration from Bangladesh started officially from 1976, although people have been migrating from our country to different countries of the world in search of better livelihoods or for many other reasons since ancient time. Experts believe, people migrate from this country to others in search of overall development including better employment opportunities, economic and social security and higher education. Some of this migration may be for short-term and for long-term as workers, students for higher education, or as immigrants for family reunification.
While the government has institutions like Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) or DEMO (District Employment and Manpower Office) at district level to regulate the labor migration to make it safe, cheap and regular, yet it besieged to have any specific institution, regulatory body, or even has any separate policy to regulate student migration or immigrant (as permanent residence, asylum seeker, or for family reunification) migration.
For overseas employment, migrant workers in majority cases collect visas and job from their own initiative through different channels i.e. recruiting agencies, local brokers or relatives residing in destination country. Even the decision for migration and financing on migration taken by the migrant him/herself and by their families. However, hardly their decision influenced or motivated from government awareness message and activities performed by different development organizations at grassroots level.
Either short term or long term, so forth the duration and cost, migrant worker themselves most often take the responsibility and risk for their migration. No matter how much money they spend or invested for own and family development, they often choose different channel for migration ignoring the associated risks, for which in certain cases they experiences various forms of exploitation, abuse, and deprivation - which are often not disclose to public.
Since access to information on safe migration and documents processing services are limited at the village or sub-district level, aspirant migrant workers and their families mostly rely on relatives or known local brokers (so called Dalal) to prepare all the documents including the passport. To make migration affordable, our government set policies for country-wise migration cost and authorized recruiting agencies for processing the overseas employment. However, the migrant workers needs to pay more than that fixed cost for migration for the country they are desire to go. In most of the cases, the aspirant took the risks and the responsibility to manage the migration cost by selling their inherited land, assets or from wrecking the family savings.
In-depth analysis of migration-prone areas like Cumilla, Chattogram, and Narshingdi showed migrant families ween migration as means of investment for their families, and treat migrant workers as money machine - who are dedicated to hoard money for a certain period of time. The intimate needs of those workers are often remain neglected while they dedicate their life for the family development. Therefore, these fate seekers forced to stay abroad for a long time, legally or illegally, to continue the remit money to meet family expenditure, build asset, ensure higher education of child, upgrade family social status and dignity. Another reason they place to support their logic to stay longer period in abroad is the short term employment contract is not sufficient for them to recover the migration cost and which ultimately pressurize them to stay abroad for a longer period of time or for uncertain time. However, if they became successful for the economic development of the family, everyone appreciate, in oppose they blamed for tarnishing the image of the country.
According to a study of ILO, more than 20-22 lakh people join into the domestic labor force every year in Bangladesh, however there are employment opportunities only for 8-10 lakh people in country. Therefore, every year more than 6-8 hundred thousand people find migration or foreign employment as an alternative for their livelihood. As a result, foreign employment became a unique source for their livelihood and the state benefited from their remittances. On the contrary, for foreign employment of low skilled or semi-skilled workers, the government spends very little.
While our government and relevant ministry endeavoring to raise awareness, taken initiatives to increase its efficiencies and set mechanisms ensure regular and safe migration of workers (excluding student or immigrant migration), migrant workers are taking own initiative and decision to change their fate with their own finance. Our migrant workers are well aware that short-term visas or job contracts are not sufficient to retrieve the migration cost, yet they are going abroad with a kind of risk, trusting on relatives or broker living there.
Aspirants, except those who migrating directly by recruiting agencies (RAs), in certain circumstances feel hesitation to receive skill or trade base training on which category they wish to migrate or find employment, as majority of them collect the so call free visa (though there is no such thing called free visa) or purchase visa from relatives. Which ultimately thwarted the government strategic plan to send skilled migrant workers. Even in certain cases, aspirants do not concentrate mind while receiving the pre-departure orientation (PDO), and could not acquire enough knowledge and information on safe migration, financial and remittance management and migrant rights; which increases their vulnerability of abuse and exploitation. Moreover, hundreds of thousand workers in each year from Bangladesh tried to migrate illegally to developed countries of Europe and Easter Asians i.e. Malaysia and Italy within short time, and fall into the clutches of human traffickers. Apart from physical and mental abuse and torture, these victims have to pay huge amount of money as ransom to the traffickers in exchange of their life.
Recently thousands of migrant workers returned to Bangladesh after loss of jobs due to COVID 19 lockdown measures espoused by host countries, among whom 49,000 were female. Some of them also compel to return after expiration of their job contract or visa. Therefore, these cursed workers could not recover the money they invested for their migration and now leading despondent life in home.
Though the government took initiatives to distribute soft loan packages among COVID-19 returnee workers through the Expatriate Welfare Bank (PKB) for their alternative employment or livelihood, the issue of their pre-migration debts remained derelict. Moreover, the undocumented migrants or trafficked victims kept aside from this facility, what makes their life difficult to live.
Though we do some wellbeing things for these ultimate risk taker from the wage earners welfare fund- which is basically generated from their own money, the question still glare in front of our eyes- what else we could do to curtail their social and financial risks and make the migration process easier? The country enrich its foreign reserve with the remittances send back by these remit earners. While some NGOs and development agencies working at grassroots level in certain places to raise community awareness for safe migration, however these are not sufficient to cover the whole country and mass community. Fewer initiatives from government institutions at district or sub-district level could notice, which eventually could not contribute to achieve the objectives of action plan that government keen to implement. However, intra-ministerial initiatives alone with inclusive policies and laws and robust public-private partnership for ethical recruitment needs to embrace for ensuring protection of rights of these speculators.
Aminul Hoque Tushar is Labor migration analyst and Development activist