Fallout from Covid-19: Left high and dry | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 23, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:08 AM, May 23, 2020

Fallout from Covid-19: Left high and dry

87pc of 558 returnee migrant workers have no income opportunities amid shutdown, says Brac report

Some 87 percent of 558 returnee migrant workers do not have income opportunities amid the shutdown enforced to contain coronavirus spread, said a Brac Migration Programme report.

The report said the rest 13 percent are either dependent on family members or have small income from farming.

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And some 10 percent returnees have taken loan from formal and informal sources.

The Brac Migration Programme launched the report, "The Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic on the Life and Livelihoods of Returnee Migrants", during a virtual programme yesterday.

It conducted a telephonic survey in April in 13 districts -- Dhaka, Munshiganj, Shariatpur, Tangail, Narshingdi, Cumilla, Noakhali, Sylhet, Sunamganj, Sirajganj, Rangpur, Jashore and Khulna.

The respondents, including eight percent female workers, returned between January and March. They aged from below 30 to over 50.

Eighty-six percent respondents returned in March and the others in January and February.

Forty-five percent of the workers returned from Gulf Cooperation Council countries -- Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait. Of the others, 17 percent returned from Italy, 12 percent from Malaysia and nine percent from Singapore. The rest were from other countries including the UK and the US.

Nearly five lakh people returned from abroad between mid-February and mid-March. They include over 2,00,000 expatriates, the report said, citing home ministry data.

It said 34 percent of the respondents already spent their savings, 33 percent could depend on savings for next three months, and 19 percent for one to two months. Others did not share information to this end.

It added 69 percent returnees could manage their expenses from savings, while the rest depended on others or took loan.

According to the report, 84 percent returnees were uncertain about their future plan, six percent wanted to go back to their workplaces abroad and others thought about small scale agro-based business or groceries at home.

Fifty-two percent returnees were in dire need of financial assistance while nine percent said they were taken care of by the government and NGOs.

It said 40 percent respondents had to return due to emerging Covid-19 situation, 35 percent were on leave or vacation but unable to travel back, and seven percent had no relations to Covid-19 with their return.

Others returned due to personal, family-related and other issues.

It said neighbours and relatives of 29 percent returnees were not supportive when they came back home. However, 97 percent found their families to be supportive.

Seventy-four percent returnees mentioned they were depressed and feeling stress, anxiety and fear. The rest 26 percent had no mental health issues.

On the other hand, 96 percent mentioned they were physically well.

Brac Migration Programme Head Shariful Hasan said through the survey they tried to understand the current status of the returnee migrants, socio-economic shocks they were facing and what coping mechanisms they were using.

Besides, the survey tried to understand the kind of support the returnees were getting.

He stressed the need for collective effort to ensure successful reintegration of the returnee migrant workers.

KAM Morshed, senior director, Advocacy for Social Change, Brac, said migrant workers are one of key drivers of the country's economy.

Many migrant workers who came home either on vacation or after end of their jobs are facing different challenges including that related to health, he said.

In a set of recommendations, Brac called upon the government to launch sustainable reintegration programme, including psycho-social support for the returnees, and urged both public and private stakeholders for creating more inclusive and supportive environment for them.

It said the government should start negotiation with destination countries to stop forced return of Bangladeshi workers. Diplomatic efforts should be taken to extend visa and work permits of the migrant workers.

The government should increase budget allocation for the expatriates' welfare ministry and extend social protection coverage and safety net programmes, it said. 

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