Listen to the migrant workers

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If you listen to the migrant workers attentively, you will realize that despite not being dangerous they themselves are in danger unfortunately, and illogically! Millions of Bangladeshi migrant workers have been working sincerely in different sectors in many countries. They are sending foreign remittance worth billions of taka to Bangladesh. But it is unfortunate that many of them do not get satisfactory help and service from the Bangladesh embassies and high commissions in the countries they are working. They are even deprived of their human rights sometimes. We must keep in mind that first they are the citizens of our country Bangladesh and then they are the migrant workers. That is why they have the equal rights like other citizens.

For example, let us talk about the Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia. Over two lakh of Bangladeshi workers are still unregistered and thus they are undocumented, which is making them vulnerable in various ways. Most of them do not have job security. They face incidents of extortion and exploitation on a regular basis. They are neither entitled to legal protection nor covered by insurance.

They are thronging Bangladesh high commission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia every day to collect their passports and other necessary documents to become documented. I will use the word ‘documented’ rather than ‘legal’ in my story, because migration is not illegal.

Taking advantage of the huge rush of the migrants at the high commission, some Bangladeshi brokers are now making a quick buck in the name of processing their necessary documents. Some sufferers said that they had been approaching the high commission for around two months for their passports. Even people have to pay extra money from their hard-earned savings to the brokers to get necessary documents, they alleged. So, they recommended that our government should stop the tyranny of brokers and to make sure necessary and expected services for the migrant workers from the high commission easily in a cordial manner.

Some migrant workers even recommended shifting the Bangladesh high commission office from the present address: House no. 114, Jalan U-Thant 55000 Kuala Lumpur to any suitable location in the city with more space so that the Bangladeshi migrant workers may reach by available transport, straightway within a short time.

Some migrant workers expressed their despair with sorrow. They placed examples of other countries and said that if any worker of those countries faces any problem in Malaysia, his or her embassy or high commission staffs run to solve the problems and save that person instantly anyhow. But unfortunately, the response from the Bangladesh high commission is not satisfactory in this type of cases, they added.

Moreover, Bangladeshi migrant workers in many countries are falling victim to abuse, mistreatment, fraud and other maltreatment in the hands of their foreign employers. There are thousands of Bangladeshi workers for whom life is synonymous with a daily, persistent struggle in destination countries. These workers, many of whom are undocumented, cannot access legal protections, routinely face forced labour, threats of deportation, and they are illegally low-paid.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention, those disadvantaged workers need protections for freedom of association, worker voice, global monitoring and regulation mechanisms as well.

However, we should take into cognizance that through different events migration experts recommended ensuring safe migration and migration with dignity. In this regard we can recall the comments of Swedish Minister for Justice and Migration Morgan Johansson. At a programme in Dhaka on 10 May this year, Morgan said that the migrants should be organized to realize their rights in destination countries as power of solidarity, which plays a very vital role in favour of them. He urged the employers in destination countries, “If you promise for salary, working hours, you cannot violate the agreement.” He further pointed out that both the sending and receiving countries need to work together for the welfare of migrants. Morgan hopes that global leaders would be able to bring out pro-migrant approaches from the upcoming Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), to be held in Dhaka in December.

Professor CR Abrar of Dhaka University, also a migration expert, highlighted that Bangladesh was facing difficulties in resolving issues of irregular flows of migration in both forms of human smuggling and human trafficking through different routes. In addition, speakers at a programme in Dhaka recently gave emphasis on the protection of the migrants who often face exploitations and discriminations in the destination countries. The dignity and rights of the migrant workers must be upheld. So, the safe, orderly and regular migration can bring economic development for the both sending and receiving countries, they added.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET), there are over four lakh documented Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia who sent more than 110 million US$ in remittance to Bangladesh in 2015. Though it added to the billions of US$ every year with the remittances we receive from other countries. But regrettably the migrant workers are undervalued, and their valuable contributions for national economy are rarely recognized in Bangladesh, media reports.

On the other hand, a significant number of women migrant workers of Bangladesh in abroad suffer from the non-enforcement of legal rights and violations of international labour standards. Those include low wages, gender discrimination, workplace violence, wage theft among others. Considering all the issues, the government and the stakeholders should address the vulnerabilities of migrant workers to create friendly, supportive and responsive atmosphere for the migrant workers globally. Also productive, attractive and profitable investment opportunities for the returnee migrants should be created in our country.

A consultative workshop on ‘South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) plan of action for cooperation on matters related to migration’ was held in Kathmandu, Nepal on first week of May this year. It has decided to formulate the standards for salary and facilities given to migrant workers and make a common strategy on ensuring their rights and ending their problems. It is estimated that 35.1 million people from the SAARC countries alone having left for foreign employment. The experts stressed the need for SAARC countries to show solidarity with anti-human trafficking that is connected to foreign employment. They urged SAARC countries to formulate common standards on facilities to migrant workers. So, according to the discussion of the workshop, local, national, regional and global integrated support and cooperation are a must to ensure safe migration. Exemplary punishment must also be given to the much-hated, national enemies, the human traffickers and people-smuggling traders around the world.

Another important issue is: the concerned ministry of Bangladesh should probe into the incidents of abuse and death to take concrete measures to ensure that the Bangladeshi migrant workers abroad are in peace. It is very logical to improve information and evidence on safe migration among the people to prevent trafficking; side by side to explore new avenues of opportunities for migration of skilled workers. Above all, our government ought to address the vulnerabilities of migrant workers; to prevent the misery in abroad, and to stop the indifference. Creative and fruitful discussion with the authorities concerned of all the destination countries is a must to make sure the required opportunity to the Bangladeshi migrant workers to become documented so that no undocumented Bangladeshi worker left behind.

(Originally published in the Daily Observer, Bangladesh.)

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