Apart from posing a health risk for the general population, COVID-19 has also triggered a food security crisis and unemployment for a large numbers of people including the country’s farmers, workers, people with lower incomes and other impoverished communities.
Our prime minister Sheikh Hasina has announced a stimulus package of 96,690 crore taka to ensure food supply for people in need, payment of workers’ salaries, reducing harm to different industries and ensuring agricultural production. In addition, the government announced the provision of ration cards for five million people to ensure their food security for the next three years.
Meanwhile, about 2 crores Bangladeshi migrant workers of both irregular and regular status are working in different countries around the world. The hard earned remittances (about 16 billion dollars annually) sent by these workers are the most significant source of economic development in Bangladesh. Many of them have been badly affected by the current crisis. It is estimated that several hundred thousand migrant workers might be forced to come back following the global recession caused by this pandemic.
Their current situation is already alarming. A lot of migrant workers in the countries of destination have become unemployed or have not been receiving their salaries because of the economic impact of states’ measures related to COVID-19.
An analysis of calls placed to the OKUP helpline over the past one month shows that some 40% of migrant workers are now living their lives in hardship, since the current lockdown in many countries has led them to either lose their jobs outright or not having been paid their regular salaries. Additionally, as they have no longer been able to send money back home, around 25% of the families of migrant workers are now facing a serious economic crisis. Many of them have extremely limited or no access to food, putting them on the brink of starvation. Existing health risks are also worsening due to families’ inability to purchase essential medicines.
These migrant families are now facing considerable difficulties in accessing emergency support. On the one hand, they are not eligible for inclusion in the ration card list of 50 lakh people announced by the prime minister, since they do not fall into the category of people living below the poverty line. On the other hand, while there are additional food support schemes being offered by both public and private actors for those in need, fears about social status and reputation have traditionally prevented migrant families from accessing these programmes. What will happen to these families under these circumstances?
Migrant workers have been making significant sacrifices in the service of their country. Their hard earned remittances have been essential for the growth and prosperity of Bangladesh. Therefore, it is our duty and responsibility to stand beside the families of migrant workers and returnees.
In this context, OKUP, a grassroots organisation founded by returnee migrant workers, urgently calls upon the honorable prime minister to announce a social protection fence for the families of migrant workers and returnees. We request the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment to take measures in this regard as swiftly and comprehensively as possible, in order to ensure the migrants’ and families’ left behind overall welfare, food security, and protection.