REMITTANCE inflow is a major contributor to our economy, yet the plight of those whose backbreaking labour keeps the money flowing in remains largely overlooked. A recent report by The Daily Star has highlighted this contrast between expectations and the actual experience of migrant workers, which brings forth a troubling question: at what cost are they doing what they are doing? The report, citing experts, presents grim statistics and accounts of exploitations and corruption that bedevil the labour migration sector. It appears that a large number of expatriate workers, who collectively sent home around USD 15 billion in the last fiscal year, were left poorer and more vulnerable upon migration.
A migrant worker or overseas jobseeker has to face myriad problems in their bid to give their family a better life. A 2017 study found that 19 percent of overseas jobseekers are defrauded in Bangladesh and cannot go abroad despite paying money to the middlemen. And 32 percent of migrants face various forms of exploitation—joblessness, irregular wages, non-payment of wages, etc. Many of them return home within several months of their travel, even after having sold off ancestral land, braved perilous journeys, and subjected themselves to the mercy of manpower brokers and trafficking gangs. All these, clearly, stand in stark contrast to the political rhetoric surrounding remittances being the second largest source of foreign exchange for the country.
A lot of the problems facing migrants are due to lack of discipline and accountability in the chaotic labour migration sector. So, any effort to address their plight has to begin by first establishing order in the sector. The government must adopt a zero-tolerance approach to corruption, rein in the disruptive influences of recruiting agencies and their collaborators, both local and international, and reform its labour policy and practices keeping the best interests of migrants in mind, including generating local employment for aspirant migrants. The government cannot turn a blind eye to the sufferings of the expatriate workforce while continuing to be a beneficiary of their hard work and sacrifices.