Migrants workers are not slaves. They are human beings too, and have rights to survive with dignity like others in the world”, Dulal of Bangladesh said to me, while returning from Qatar recently. In Doha, Qatar to report on the plights of migrant workers, I met and talked to some of the ill-fated migrant workers of Bangladesh, they were returning Bangladesh empty handed. Dulal of Chittagong was one of them. His father paid Taka six hundred thousand to a middleman to send him to Qatar for what was purported to be a well-paid job. The broker arranged for a one-month’s VISA (In the name of free VISA) for Dulal from Dhaka, and urged him to go to Qatar, promising that the work visa would be extended for three years once he was there. At the end of the month however there was not only no extension, but the broken disappeared. Dulal never saw the broker again in Qatar and even the broker refused to answer his desperate calls.
Dulal stayed on in Qatar illegally, on the run from the authorities hoping his situation would change for the better, as he did not even have money to pay for the ticket to return home. Dulal was crying for the loss of money they paid to the broker, selling their ancestral land which they would never get back. “The broker threatened my father not to demand the money that we paid him. So we do not dare to file any case against him. Because he is very influential, he may even kill us if we file any case against him.”
Talking to other workers, I got similarities with what happened to Dulal. The victims alleged that there are thousands of trafficked, and undocumented youths in different countries who face the same consequences like Dulal, even many of them die due to shock, fear, and different diseases without treatment. But the brokers or middlemen become rich through earning money illegally from the victims, giving false hope from the ignorant people like Dulal.
So, who will tie the bell in the neck of the cat? Certainly the government should look into it so that the people like Dulal do not become life-threatening victim of trafficking, and illegal, irregular or undocumented migrants.
In May 2016, PANOS South Asia, and CARAM Asia (Malaysia) jointly organized an orientation workshop for the media on migrant labour in Malaysia and its initiative on promoting a migrant friendly environment in the South Asian region. I had the opportunity to attend the workshop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The discussants including the representatives from Tenaganita -Malaysia, mentioned that migrant workers are workers with equal rights and dignity. These rights must be protected in laws and policies. Such laws and policies must be effectively and justly enforced by the various agencies. Key principles for migration policy should include non-discrimination and equal treatment of workers.
Migration costs must be lower
At a recent seminar on migration in Dhaka, one suggestion made by speakers was the elimination of the brokers or middlemen, and Kafala system. Speakers observed that workers’ dependency on middlemen and lack of adequate information are some of the factors responsible for higher migration costs. So, to reduce the costs, the experts stressed the need for initiating a “government to government (G to G)” migration process for aspirant migrant workers.
Director of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) Dr Nurul Islam said, “Workers often fall victim to fraudulence as most of the middlemen deal with migration processes without giving their clients necessary documents.”
“We must ensure protection mechanism for the migrants, and to maintain highest ethical standards. Migrant workers remain very unsafe and vulnerable in situations of conflict in host countries as there is still no specific mechanism for their protection, said Shahidul Haque, Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh. Global leaders must find an organized and definite principle to protect migrants and ensure their rights in such situations. Formation of structural frameworks is imperative so that supply and demand can be properly regulated, Shahidul added.
Human rights activists called upon international recruiting agencies and employers to maintain the highest ethical standards by ensuring protection of migrant workers in all the stages starting from recruitment to repatriation.
Employers must bear the migration costs and the migrants, based on their work, should be ensured equal pay, access to health and safety facilities. Governments should put pressure on the labour receiving countries, which are deviant from global standards, to run a decent recruitment industry. Traffickers, dishonest brokers/ middlemen, greedy people-smugglers must get exemplary punishment.
The Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD)
On December 10-12, 2016 Government of Bangladesh successfully organized the global event the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) in Dhaka. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the GFMD event as the Chief Guest, and urged the world leaders to uphold the dignity and rights of migrants. “We need to secure a predictable and responsible international response to migrants and refugees to realize the promises of ‘transformation’ of the Agenda 2030. Migration is equally essential for peace, stability and growth”, Sheikh Hasina opined.
Representatives from 125 countries and over 30 United Nations agencies, international organizations, global civil society and business participated in the three-day GFMD Summit. The discussants at the GFMD event highlighted the need for orderly, safe and regular migration.
With the universal recognition of migration as an enabler, with its inevitability and its multi-dimensional nature, we have repeatedly heard a ‘call for action’. Next year, the focus of the GFMD will be on the contribution of GFMD to the UN’s Global Compact on Migration. The Compact is intended to herald a strong signal from the international community for an enhanced global migration policy to be adopted by the community of states in 2018.
There must be monitoring and evaluation of success and failure of GFMD goals, the discussants opined. “The United Nations must play a leading role to ensure migrants’ rights and protect them during the emergencies”, Syed Saiful Haque, chairman of WARBEE Development Foundation, and a representative of Civil Society Organizations in Bangladesh said at the GFMD event.
(Originally published in the Observer, Bangladesh.)