Safe immigration is a must

In May 2016, while flying to Malaysia, I met Sohel. A 20-year-old boy from Barishal, the southern coastal district of Bangladesh, He was on the flight because he had been promised a well-paying job once he reached Malayasia by a labour broker in his village. For this verbal agreement, the broker took four hundred thousand Bangladeshi taka, a big amount given his family’s straitened circumstances. Sohel’s father had to sell a portion of their ancestral land to pay the broker. Sohel, however, had been given no job contract or legal document confirming his payment and employment. He didn’t even know what work he would do once he reached. As someone who could not read and could barely sign his name, Sohel’s vulnerability as a migrant worker was acute.

When I pressed for more information, I was shocked to learn that this was Sohel’s second foray at securing a job in Malayasia. He had made the same trip two months back, based on a similar promise made by the same broker. 

But when he reached Kuala Lumpur, there was no one to meet him and he was deported back to Dhaka by the Airport authorities. Nervously, after sharing his story, Sohel begged me to stop asking him questions about his broker. He informed me that his agent had strictly warned him not to talk to anyone about the details of his job or why he was going to Malayasia while travelling.

In fact, Sohel is not an isolated case. There are thousands of youths like him who are systematically cheated and exploited by a well-organised syndicate of human traffickers/ people-smugglers, who take advantage of poor, and ignorant people. Recently, Manusher Jonno Foundation, an independent organization in Bangladesh conducted a survey, and revealed the findings at a seminar in Dhaka titled Irregular Labour Migration in Bangladesh: Crises and Ways Forward. The survey was conducted in Sirajganj, Narsingdi, Cox’s Bazar, Comillla, Tangail and Narayanganj districts this year in 2016 disclosed that around 33 percent of Bangladeshi migrants have resorted to illegal channels. Of the 4,321 respondents, 1,434 were found to be irregular migrants, the highest number of which were from Sirajganj (49 percent) while the lowest Narayanganj. At least 23 migrants died on the way over sea routes in the last three years while at least 39 others went missing.

Recently, Manusher Jonno Foundation, an independent organization in Bangladesh conducted a survey, and revealed the findings at a seminar in Dhaka titled Irregular Labour Migration in Bangladesh: Crises and Ways Forward. The survey was conducted in Sirajganj, Narsingdi, Cox’s Bazar, Comillla, Tangail and Narayanganj districts this year in 2016 disclosed that around 33 percent of Bangladeshi migrants have resorted to illegal channels. Of the 4,321 respondents, 1,434 were found to be irregular migrants, the highest number of which were from Sirajganj (49 percent) while the lowest Narayanganj. At least 23 migrants died on the way over sea routes in the last three years while at least 39 others went missing.According to the survey, 71 percent of youths between the ages 18 and 31 years were victims of irregular migration while the rest above 31. These migrants used the sea route considering it to be cheap compared to legal channels. Irregular migration usually takes place due to the high cost of legal ones, for unemployment and in search of better jobs. In irregular channels, the migrants faced physical and sexual abuse, severe torture for ransom at the hands of human traffickers and people-smugglers.

According to the survey, 71 percent of youths between the ages 18 and 31 years were victims of irregular migration while the rest above 31. These migrants used the sea route considering it to be cheap compared to legal channels. Irregular migration usually takes place due to the high cost of legal ones, for unemployment and in search of better jobs. In irregular channels, the migrants faced physical and sexual abuse, severe torture for ransom at the hands of human traffickers and people-smugglers.

During interviews for the survey, around 78 percent of respondents alleged that they had to face troubles before, during and after irregular migration, while only 17 percent claimed that they faced no problem. In destination countries, they are exposed to various forms of exploitation and ill-treatment including mobility restrictions, job uncertainty, bribe demands by law enforcers, irregular or denial of wages, assault, confinement and poor working and living conditions. The survey’s report observed that irregular migration was the outcome of governance failures of governments in both sending and receiving countries. Considering the issues, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam mentioned that many jobseekers using illegal channels become victims of fraudulence. “We know that some Bangladeshi criminals confine Bangladeshi workers and torture them to realize ransom in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. We have taken action against some of them,” he added. Shaheen Anam, Executive Director of Manusher Jonno Foundation said, “If migrants can go abroad through legal channels and work safely, they would be able to send huge remittances in the country, helpful to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (DGS). So, it is important to ensure safe migration through legal channels  enhancing skills of prospective and potential migrants.”

Considering the issues, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam mentioned that many jobseekers using illegal channels become victims of fraudulence. “We know that some Bangladeshi criminals confine Bangladeshi workers and torture them to realize ransom in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. We have taken action against some of them,” he added. Shaheen Anam, Executive Director of Manusher Jonno Foundation said, “If migrants can go abroad through legal channels and work safely, they would be able to send huge remittances in the country, helpful to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (DGS). So, it is important to ensure safe migration through legal channels  enhancing skills of prospective and potential migrants.” When victims of trafficking do manage to secure employment in destination countries, their plight can be worse. Several Bangladeshi agents of trafficking syndicates are active in Malaysia, and some other countries.  With some of

When victims of trafficking do manage to secure employment in destination countries, their plight can be worse. Several Bangladeshi agents of trafficking syndicates are active in Malaysia, and some other countries.  With some of them I met in Malaysia, spoke on-record about the various ways in which they dupe poor Bangladeshi migrant workers, After becoming closely acquainted with the staff working in embassies and high commissions and advertising these ties so that workers trust them enough to pay “brokerage” for ‘foreign’ jobs.

However, the horrors that Sohel and others like him face are rarely addressed by migrants-welfare departments and agencies, and hardly get any media coverage.  In fact, safe migration matters; in terms of national and global economic development, social, cultural and political stability and empowerment.Experts opined that migration is one of the pressing issues, and defining features of the 21st century. Safe migration remarkably contributed huge to reach Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and it is continuously contributing greatly to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) both nationally and internationally. But trafficking is diluting the hard-earned achievements–those are very hard to regain. It is imperative that the government of both source and destination countries take an active interest and step up co-ordination.  It needs urgently to ensure that migrant workers receive proper services and support, which builds awareness among them to enable demanding their rights according to the

Experts opined that migration is one of the pressing issues, and defining features of the 21st century. Safe migration remarkably contributed huge to reach Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and it is continuously contributing greatly to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) both nationally and internationally. But trafficking is diluting the hard-earned achievements–those are very hard to regain. It is imperative that the government of both source and destination countries take an active interest and step up co-ordination.  It needs urgently to ensure that migrant workers receive proper services and support, which builds awareness among them to enable demanding their rights according to the labour laws of destination countries.  Migration and migrants are key development actors and always have been. The world is experiencing the time of the greatest human mobility in its history. With the adoption of the SDGs, migration is now mainstreamed in national policy, offering an opportunity for changing the perception of migration, to a positive and natural component of national development policies.

Migration and migrants are key development actors and always have been. The world is experiencing the time of the greatest human mobility in its history. With the adoption of the SDGs, migration is now mainstreamed in national policy, offering an opportunity for changing the perception of migration, to a positive and natural component of national development policies. On 19 September, 2016, world leaders came together and joined the migrants and refugees Summit in New York, USA at the United Nations General Assembly. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina was also present at that historic Summit. She stressed the need for protection and promotion of the rights of migrants and refugees, and very rightly mentioned, “For harmony across our diverse societies, protection and promotion of the rights of migrants and refugees are equally essential.”

On 19 September, 2016, world leaders came together and joined the migrants and refugees Summit in New York, USA at the United Nations General Assembly. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina was also present at that historic Summit. She stressed the need for protection and promotion of the rights of migrants and refugees, and very rightly mentioned, “For harmony across our diverse societies, protection and promotion of the rights of migrants and refugees are equally essential.”In this regard, the New York Declaration expresses the political will of world leaders to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a global scale. Member States have made bold commitments both to address the issues we face now and to prepare the world for future challenges of migration.  Therefore, strengthen the global governance of migration by bringing the government and other stakeholders’ initiatives for migration into the United Nations system to achieving SDGs.

In this regard, the New York Declaration expresses the political will of world leaders to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a global scale. Member States have made bold commitments both to address the issues we face now and to prepare the world for future challenges of migration.  Therefore, strengthen the global governance of migration by bringing the government and other stakeholders’ initiatives for migration into the United Nations system to achieving SDGs.

(Originally published in The Independent, Bangladesh.)

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