Recent deportation of migrant workers from Saudi Arabia brings to the fore how Bangladesh government fails to prevent malpractices in recruitment and ensure migrants’ welfare, according to experts.
Saudi authorities have sent back over 40,000 Bangladeshi workers in the last two years for staying there after their documents had expired, changing job without permission and not working for the designated employer in violation of the local law, according to Brac Migration Programme.
The Gulf country announced a crackdown on undocumented workers in November, 2017. Over 2.1 million migrants were arrested in the following year, according to Human Rights Watch’s World Report-2019.
Labour migration experts said the Bangladesh should have found out why the workers “became undocumented” in the oil-rich country. Bangladesh also should have raised the issue at global or multilateral platforms.
Imran Sheikh, 26, of Faridpur’s Modhukhali was sent back along with 119 other undocumented migrant workers on October 4.
He had been detained on September 23 while going to a shop. He later learnt that he was declared “absconding” by his employer about three months before he was arrested.
He said he had given Tk 4 lakhs to a Bangladeshi broker who assured him of a job at a welding workshop in the Gulf country, he said.
However, when he reached the country, his employer forced him to work at a fertiliser factory.
As per Saudi law, it is illegal to work at a place other than the one designated in the visa.
“The company [employer] threatened me and other workers with deportation if we disagreed with them,” he told this correspondent over phone.
He alleged that Bangladesh mission officials hardly ever listened to what detained migrant workers had to say.
Shariful Hasan, head of Brac Migration Programme, said workers often go to the Middle Eastern countries with the so-called “free visas”.
Actually, there is no such thing as a free visa. The workers are told that they can work freely without being tied to a particular employer. But that is illegal, he said.
In many cases, employers are also involved in corruption, he said, adding that much of the problems being faced by the migrants is so-called “free visas”.
The Bangladesh government should take steps to save the workers from being deceived like this, he said.
Saudi Arabia has been a leading destination for Bangladeshi migrant workers since it resumed taking them in 2015.
Between 2015 and September 2019, Saudi Arabia received about 13.68 lakh Bangladeshi workers, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training.
Migration expert Prof CR Abrar said the government could have been vocal against the problems migrant workers were facing in Saudi Arabia to prevent the deportations.
If it’s not possible to settle issues bilaterally then Bangladesh could contact international labour migration forums like the Abu Dhabi Dialogue or the Colombo Process, he said.
The government should also look into whether migrant workers willingly violate Saudi laws or they are forced to do that by someone else, said Prof CR Abrar.
It’s important to learn lessons from the recent incidents of deportation, he said.
Another labour migration expert Asif Munier said that labour recruitment agreements between the two countries should be updated in line with laws concerned.
Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies, said Bangladesh mission should look into whether the Saudi authorities send back migrant workers who have valid documents.
Contacted, Aminul Islam, labour counsellor at the Bangladesh Consulate General in Jeddah, said only those who become undocumented and found to be “at fault” were being deported.
Amid the crackdown that started in 2017, Bangladesh mission sent ‘note verbale’ to Saudi foreign ministry on multiple occasions so that Bangladeshi expatriates were not abused, he said.
He added that issues relating to migrant workers’ problems were raised in several meetings between overseas employment minister and the Saudi authorities.
Regarding Imran’s allegations, Aminul said his office usually takes steps after receiving specific complaints.
He could not say how many undocumented Bangladeshi migrant workers were living in the Gulf country now.