Migrants’ Contribution to National Development:
Labour migration is significant for the economy of Bangladesh for many reasons. Almost a quarter of job seekers who enter the country’s labour market every year are employed through migration overseas which contributes to reduce unemployment in Bangladesh. The constant flow of migrants’ remittances plays a significant role in increasing the Bangladesh central bank’s foreign currency reserve. In addition to remittances, migrant workers boost the country’s revenue through the fees paid for employment clearance and their contributions to the Wage Earners Welfare Board.
Despite the obvious contribution to the country’s economy, there is rarely allocation for the protection of migrant workers and their families in the budget of the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment (MoEWOE). The ministry had the third lowest budget in FY 2018-19. Furthermore, the MoEWOE allocated only 0.088% of its total budget that year for development programmes. In any case, these programmes rarely directly benefit the welfare of migrant workers and their families which is primarily supported through assistance from the Wage Earners’ Welfare Fund.
Government’s Commitment and Actions to date:
The government of Bangladesh recognizes the contribution of its migrant workers to the country’s development in different policy documents. Migrants’ contributions are significantly aligned to achieve the present government’s vision 2021. Therefore, the 6th and 7th Five Year Plan has given clear direction in relation to ensuring protection and welfare of migrant workers through adopting the Overseas Employment and Migrants Act 2013 and Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Policy 2016. The Government of Bangladesh has committed (Art. 1.5, Migration Policy 2016) to establish a ‘Rights based Protection System’ for migrant workers for their contributions to the national economy and the improvement of their families. The government has committed to ensure social protection of migrant workers through ratification of international documents including the Global Compact on Migration [objective 21(h)] and the Commission on the Status of Women, Sixty Third Session (CSW63) (point u. P13-14), and most importantly the SDGs.
The Reality of Life for Migrant Workers:
Bangladeshi migrant workers pay extremely high migration fees; OKUP’s research shows that 76% of migrants take out loans for migration, and many others are forced to resort to selling land to raise funds to migrate. The lack of safe and orderly recruitment practices as well as adequate protection and welfare services abroad, result in thousands of migrant workers returning empty-handed with broken dreams, or with critical illnesses and psychological trauma. Women migrant workers face even greater challenges as, upon return, they are often abandoned by their husbands or their physical and mental illnesses remain untreated due to lack of financial resources. This leaves them highly vulnerable with little or no support network in a society which tends to further persecute victims causing their situation to increasingly deteriorate.
বিদেশ ফেরত অভিবাসী এবং বিদেশে অবস্থানরত ক্ষতিগ্রস্ত অভিবাসী কর্মীর পরিবারের জন্য বিশেষ ‘সামাজিক সুরক্ষা বেষ্টনী ঘোষণার দাবি জানিয়েছে অভিবাসী কর্মী উন্নয়ন প্রোগ্রাম (ওকাপ)।চলমান মহামারিতে অনেক অভিবাসী কর্মী কাজ হারিয়েছেন অথবা বেতন পাচ্ছেন না। বিগত একমাসে ওকাপের হেল্পলাইন ‘ডাটাবেজ’ পর্যালোচনা করে দেখা গিয়েছে, বিদেশে অবস্থানরত অভিবাসী কর্মীদের প্রায় ৪০ শতাংশ চলমান “লকডাউন” পরিস্থিতিতে কাজ না থাকা বা বেতন না পাওয়ার কারনে মানবেতর জীবনযাপন করছেন। অন্যদিকে বিদেশ থেকে টাকা না পাঠানোর কারনে, অভিবাসী কর্মীদের আয়ের উপর নির্ভশীল ২৫ শতাংশ পরিবার চরম আর্থিক সংকটে পড়েছে। অনেক পরিবার অর্ধহারে দিন কাটাচ্ছে কিংবা অসুস্থতায় ওষুধ কিনতে না পেরে আরো বেশি স্বাস্থ্য ঝুঁকির মধ্যে পড়ছে। এই অবস্থায় বিদেশ ফেরত অভিবাসীদের নিয়ে গঠিত তৃণমূল সংগঠন ওকাপ মাননীয় প্রধানমন্ত্রীর কাছে বিদেশ ফেরত এবং বিদেশে অবস্থানরত ক্ষতিগ্রস্ত অভিবাসী কর্মীর পরিবারের জন্য বিশেষ “সামাজিক সুরক্ষা বেষ্টনী” ঘোষণার জোর দাবি জানাচ্ছে।
Posted by Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program – OKUP on Sunday, May 3, 2020
The situation has further been exposed in the context of COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of migrant workers have been badly affected by the current crisis of COVID-19. Many migrant workers in the countries of destination have become unemployed or have not been receiving their salaries. An analysis of calls placed to the OKUP helpline in March-April 2020 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. 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 in Bangladesh. 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. There is a deep concern that thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers will be forced to return home due to the financial crisis caused by COVID-19. These migrant workers and their families will face dire economic crisis upon their return.
Why do the returned migrant workers need to be covered in the Social Protection and Safety Net Programme of the government?
The Bangladesh government has a wide range of social protection and safety net programmes, which in 2018 reached more than 7.4 million people. The coverage of these programmes has expanded gradually each year as budgetary allocations and numbers of beneficiaries have increased, and new vulnerable groups have been included (such as transgender people, wounded and sick freedom fighters and their families, tea plantation workers, and those in the haor wetland areas). In addition, the government has declared stimulus of around 100,000 crore taka for different sectors in the response to the current COVID-19.
However, interventions to assist the returned migrant workers both men and women to reintegrate into their family and society were rare. Some returnees must sell their land to repay debts which puts them in even further economic hardship. Many reported facing social stigma and discrimination upon return.
The migrant workers who are on the front line in building the national economic development by their hard-earned remittances, are not covered under the ‘Social Safety Net Programme (SSNP). If there is no measure to protect migrant workers including women, it is almost inevitable that Bangladesh will face a real social and financial burden in the near future.
This is to note that the Ministry of Finance allocated 3,000 taka in the last year National Budget as 2% incentive on remittance sent by the migrant workers. The allocation inspired migrant workers to send remittances through official channel and benefited them as well.
Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), a grassroots migrants’ organization, strongly demands that:
- The government must include the returned migrant workers, especially the most vulnerable ones in the National Social Safety Net Programmes (NSSPs) in the FY of 2020-2021.
- The government, therefore, must allocate necessary amount in the national budget of 2020-2021 for providing a monthly allowance (similar to living wage) for the first few months upon arrival of the most vulnerable returned migrants who have escaped from rights violations, abuse, or are suffering from critical illnesses and injury etc.
- The government must provide social security coverage and universal pension scheme to Bangladeshis working abroad. Whilst the government has already undertaken steps to prepare a National Social Security System (NSSS) which includes universal social protection and a pension scheme, the government must ensure that migrant workers and their families are included in the NSSS and the proposed universal pension scheme by integrating a dedicated component for them.