Dhaka, Bangladesh
Bangladeshi migrant workers grapple with uncertainty

Bangladeshi migrant workers grapple with uncertainty

Md Rezaul Islam, a 30-year-old native of Singair in Manikganj, went to Saudi Arabia in 2008 for work by borrowing about Tk 250,000 from relatives. He worked there as a traffic signal electrician for 550 riyals a month. His wife, children, elderly parents and younger brother were dependent on his earnings. Islam returned to Bangladesh due to illness in February and got stuck as the coronavirus pandemic led to the suspension of air travel before he was scheduled to go back to Saudi Arabia on Mar 20. Md Shahin, 35, another resident of Singair who went to Qatar in 2010 as a migrant worker by borrowing money and selling land, is also stranded after returning home on vacation. Unemployed in their homeland, both Islam and Shahin have borrowed about Tk 100,000 each to provide for their families during the crisis. But now they are left wondering how long they will get loans from relatives as they stare at an uncertain future with no end to the crisis in sight. Like Islam and Shahin, more than 200,000 returnees from foreign countries are stranded in Bangladesh due to the pandemic, according to Shariful Hasan, programme head of BRAC Migration He cited data from the home ministry and the expatriates' welfare desk at Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka. Even after the travel bans began, about 20,000 Bangladeshi workers returned home from abroad via chartered flights. Moreover, 200,000 other prospective workers could not leave the country in the four months from March. Highlighting the possibilities of a prolonged crisis, Hasan believes the government should pay more attention to containing the outbreak in Bangladesh now to ensure that the other countries take back the workers and employ more as the world has begun reopening. In a grim example of what Hasan warned of, Italy on Thursday banned travellers from Bangladesh until Oct 5 after finding a number of coronavirus cases on a flight from Bangladesh. Marina Sultana, programme director at Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, does not expect the stranded workers returning to the countries of their employment any time soon. Besides implementing the plans to provide assistance to the beleaguered migrant workers, the government's focus should be on skills development to enable them to cope with the changing situation. She also urged the government to raise its voice about international rules that stipulate the host countries must protect migrant workers in times of crisis. Source: bdnews24.com

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