The current decision of the government of some labour receiving countries regarding the forced return of so-called ‘undocumented Bangladeshi migrant workers’ is simply inhuman, cruel and injustice especially amidst the current global pandemic situation of COVID-19.
Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), as a migrant organization, is deeply concerned on the issue since it would affect the lives of a huge number of migrant workers and their families. OKUP believes that Bangladesh is not in a position to get repatriated the huge number of ‘undocumented migrant workers’ at a time. Therefore, we strongly protest the decision taken by some labour receiving countries.
We strongly express that the migrant workers are the victim of the whole recruitment system, primarily the ‘kafala’ or ‘sponsorship’ recruitment system which indulge widespread ‘visa trading’ and put migrant workers in ‘undocumented’ situation. Rather, the migrant workers, irrespective of their status, contribute a lot to the overall development of the countries of destination.
OKUP, therefore, appeal to the governments of those labour receiving countries to annul their decision at this moment of global COVID-19 pandemic, instead they should stand beside Bangladesh in the fight of COVID-19.
We recommend that the government of Bangladesh must prepare a multi-year plan for the repatriation of its ‘undocumented migrant workers’ and carryout strong negotiation and lobby with the government of those countries for their cooperation in systematic repatriation rather than a sudden ‘push back’. The government of Bangladesh can raise the issue in the regional platform of labour sending countries like ‘Colombo Process’ and seek their cooperation to deal with the concerns jointly.
We recommend that the government must prepare a comprehensive ‘Plan of Action’ for short-term, mid-term and long-term reintegration and livelihoods of the returnees. The
short-term plan may include emergency supports upon return; the mid-term is to assist the returnees in starting alternative income generation activities while the long-term mega-plan should focus on creating sustainable livelihoods for all Bangladeshi workers in the changing global economic landscape caused by the impact of COVID-19. The line ministries, the concerned government departments, development partners, and other relevant stakeholders including migrants’ organizations could work together in this regard.
Finally, we draw due attention of the government of Bangladesh for a sincere assessment and review of the whole recruitment system, take necessary actions to ensure improved recruitment system, and make sure accountability of key actors in the recruitment practices in the post COVID-19 era.
We wish safe stay and good health of all migrant workers around the world and want equal protection and services for the migrant workers irrespective of their status in all countries of destination in this pandemic situation of COVID -19.
Written by Shakirul Islam, Chair of OKUP