Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmed came under fire yesterday as three opposition lawmakers in parliament criticised him for his ministry’s failure to stop torture and sexual harassment of Bangladeshi female workers in Saudi Arabia.
Jatiya Party MPs Kazi Feroz Rashid and Mujibul Haque Chunnu and Gonoforum’s Sultan Mohammad Monsur raised the issue during the question-answer session of parliament.
In reply, the minister said, “If our female workers are unable to work in Saudi Arabia, we will consider whether we should stop sending them.”
“We have taken steps to send the female workforce after providing them with training and taking protective measures,” the minister said, adding that sending manpower depends on demand of the receiving country.
“Our efforts will be to ensure dignified jobs for them. If that’s not possible to ensure, we will think of not sending them,” he said.
In his supplementary question, Kazi Feroz Rashid asked what the expatriate welfare minister is doing when female workers are being subjected to sexual harassment.
“Bodies of around 600 to 700 female workers have returned from Saudi Arabia in the last few years. In every case, the autopsy reports claimed that the deaths were due to natural causes,” he said.
“Those were carried out by the Saudi authorities while no representatives from the Bangladesh embassy or expatriates’ welfare ministry were present,” Kazi Feroz added.
He said the ministry or Bangladesh embassy did not take any action against recruiting agencies for sending female workers without ensuring their safety and salary.
“We cannot do such business [of earning foreign currency] by sending our female workers and subjecting them to torture and sexual harassment,” he added.
“Why do we need to send female workers to Saudi Arabia? We need to stop this. Are we so poor that we’ll have to send them there to earn for the country? Have we become a ‘bottomless basket’? We don’t need to earn money by selling our mothers and sisters.”
The JP MP also said neither the minister nor his ministry took any action to stop this.
During the session, Sultan Mohammad said, “Bangladesh will be known as a country involved in ‘slave trade’, if we do not stop sending female workers to Saudi Arabia.”
Mujibul Haque said due to abuse in the Kingdom, female workers are returning on a regular basis. He wanted to know what action the minister has taken to stop this.
In reply, the minister said the government is more worried than the MPs who raised the issue.
“Recently, I invited the charge d’ affaires of the Saudi embassy and discussed the issue with him,” the minister said. “The Bangladesh envoy in the Arab country has also been directed to raise it with the Saudi foreign ministry.”
He said a joint technical group of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia will discuss the issues at a meeting on November 26 in the Middle Eastern country.
The minister said no female worker will be sent there without at least a month’s training. “I hope this problem will be resolved to a large extent,” he said.
Imran Ahmed also informed the House that in the last couple of months, the ministry has suspended licenses of 160 recruiting agencies, cancelled licenses of three and fined a number of them Tk 3 crore for their involvement in irregularities in sending female workers.
RALLY DEMANDS JUSTICE
Meanwhile, a citizens’ body yesterday demanded that the government immediately publish on its website the names of employers, their workplace addresses, and updated medical reports of female workers currently working in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.
They also demanded that the government initiate a help desk at the ministry so that family members stay updated.
Speakers under the banner of “Prabashi Nari Shramiker Pashe Bangladesh” organised a rally on Central Shaheed Minar premises, said a press release. Later, a six-member team placed a 13-point demand to the ministry concerned.
They urged the government to scrap all labour-sending bilateral agreements with the countries not parties to different declarations and agreements that protect migrant workers’ rights.
The government has to reach a bilateral agreement with receiving countries to make case filing process for abused female workers easier and to create a way so that they can fight legal battle from home, they added.