In what is being hailed as an exemplary and landmark verdict by different Bangladeshi organisations, the main accused in the murder case of migrant worker Abiron Begum was handed down the death penalty by a court in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. According to a report in The Daily Star published on Tuesday, Ayesha al-Jizani (the main accused and Abiron's employer) was sentenced to death for killing the migrant worker "with a motive", while her husband, Basem Salem, was sentenced to three years and two months of imprisonment and was fined 50,000 Saudi Riyal. Additionally, the pair's son has been ordered to be sent to a juvenile correction centre for seven months for not cooperating with Abiron and for not arranging her treatment.
While this verdict is certainly a milestone in terms of how cases of abuse and murder of migrant workers abroad are usually handled, we hope that it will serve as a starting point rather than remain an outlier.
Between 2016 and September of 2020, the bodies of 437 female migrant workers had arrived in the country from the Middle East, with the highest number of bodies coming from Saudi Arabia. Many such migrant worker deaths are claimed to be suicides, but the veracity of these claims is always questionable for the relatives of the deceased. A large number of the migrant workers in the Middle East become victims of fraudulent agents, who may promise them one situation but put them in a wholly different one once they arrive in the destination country. Many women migrant workers who managed to come back alive have reported inhumane treatment such as beatings, inadequate food as well as sexual abuse. Due to the lack of regulations and general support for migrant workers in countries like Saudi Arabia, individuals in such circumstances have no option but to stay.
We urge the Bangladeshi authorities and the authorities in destination countries to use the momentum from this verdict and collaborate in the interest of the safety of Bangladeshi migrant workers. At home, agencies sending workers abroad must be monitored and regulated so that fair migratory conditions are ensured for the workers. Abroad, Bangladeshi embassies need to partner up with foreign governments and organisations that work on migrant worker issues to help workers avoid underpayment, forced labour, sexual assault, and mental and physical abuse.
Murder is only one of the tragedies Bangladeshi migrant workers have to face while working in the Middle East under exploitative employers, after being practically trafficked by dubious Bangladeshi agents. Without the collaboration of both Bangladeshi and Middle Eastern authorities, Abiron might remain the only one to ever receive justice.