Fareha Jasmin, APMA 2019

Migration is a common occurrence in the present-day world. People migrate for various reasons. Specifically, migration for work or labor migration is a special concern compared to the other categories of migration.

Labor migration has always been a key livelihood strategy for the poor people in Bangladesh. It not only creates employment for the people but also brings home remittance which has far reaching impacts on the Bangladesh economy.

Overseas employment is Bangladesh’s second-largest source of income. By 2012, about 8 million Bangladeshi migrants had gone abroad to work in 143 countries around the world, with yearly migration from Bangladesh standing at about 600,000 to 700,000. Though, historically, labor migration from Bangladesh has been a male-dominated phenomenon, women are increasingly making up a significant part of the emigrants. Participation of women in migration or the ‘feminization’ of labor migration is one of the key areas where women are coming out to work beyond their traditional roles. Of these figures, about 13% of the total migrant workers are female, mainly in the Gulf States such as UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and Bahrain. Of these figures, about 13% of the total migrant workers are female, mainly in the Gulf States such as UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and Bahrain.

In Bangladesh, half of the population is women and they pose a huge potential to contribute to the economic development of the country. Because of various reasons like lack of education, lack of skill, and work as a social taboo, a large proportion of women cannot participate in the economic activities and cannot earn money to contribute financially for the family nor for the economic development of the country. For these women, labor migration offers a helpful means to allow them to be economically independent and contribute to the income of the family. Thus, migration is slowly being considered as a development measure for illiterate and skillless women.

Besides the opportunities and the benefits provided, the migrant workers face numerous challenges to obtaining work overseas, like high agency fees, lower wages, and vulnerability to discrimination and exploitation. Physical and sexual harassment is common for female workers as they live in more vulnerable situations without access to any support. According to media reports, in the last week of June 2019 alone, 120 female migrant workers came back home with stories of horrific torture, abuse,and humiliation. They left their home and loved ones to an unknown country to earn money and provide happiness for the family back home. In contrast to the joy they bring to  their family, the female migrant workers regularly face various forms of exploitation including economic, sexual, and physical.

In May 2019, 260 others returned for similar reasons. The return of female migrant workers from Middle East after being subjected to torture, abuse, and fraudulence greatly points to the lack of good administration in the country’s migration sector. This trend is alarming.

It is unfortunate that Bangladeshi workers who migrate to Gulf countries, particularly to Saudi Arabia, with the prior assurance of getting a fixed job, are often cheated by the brokers and recruiting agencies. Though they have a valid visa and work permit, they do not receive the job and salary they were offered, even after they had to pay hundreds of thousands of takas to these brokers and agencies in Bangladesh. These conditions point to the spread of human trafficking and is a complete violation of migrant rights.

In terms of financial matters, if we calculate the financial contribution, male migrant workers on average remit BDT 115,864 while migrant women workers on average remit only BDT 75,018 per year.  The figure shows that Bangladeshi migrant women workers send less remittance than their male co-worker from Bangladesh.  The reason behind the women workers’ per  capita  remittance  being  lower  in  comparison  that  of  men  is  that  migrant  women  workers are typically paid less than male migrant workers.

The number of returnees is growing higher as the number of migrants going abroad for domestic works grows. However the Bangladesh government has no exact data on how many migrant women come back after facing exploitation. According to the Migration department of BRAC, the largest NGO in Bangladesh, between 300 to 400 female migrants per month return from the Gulf States, mostly from Saudi Arabia, after being abused.

In many cases the husbands of the female migrant worker do not accept their wives after being sexually abused in the destination country or because of sending less money than the salary told to be given. When the migrants send money, everybody appreciates them but when they come back due to abuse and traumatic experiences, nobody remains there to accept them and listen to them.

Additionally, there is no state-based reintegration programme for the traumatized returnees from abroad. To ensure the human rights of the vulnerable returnee migrant workers are upheld, the government should take several measures including rehabilitation and creating income–generating activities for them through collaboration with the NGOs and the private sector. However, to truly address this issue of trafficking, preventive measures from both origin and destination countries should impose mechanisms and laws which sanction and punish any form of exploitation of migrant workers.

Photo from Dhaka Tribune.

*The contents of this opinion piece are solely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the view of the either Global Campus of Human Rights Asia Pacific, the universities under it, or the APMA program.

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