Around 30,000 undocumented Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia are seriously worried about returning home within the December 31 amnesty deadline as the prices of Kuala Lumpur-Dhaka air tickets have shot up due to a high demand, said sources at the expatriate welfare and civil aviation ministries.
The Malaysian government offered the amnesty under its “back for good” programme to repatriate illegal foreigners.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, a top official of the expatriate welfare ministry said around 29,000 undocumented Bangladeshi workers returned home since the start of the amnesty programme on August 1.
“The situation got worse in recent weeks as several thousand Bangladeshis remained stranded in Kuala Lumpur amid a dearth of air tickets. The prices of Kuala Lumpur-Dhaka tickets have soared to Tk 50,000-70,000, up from the regular fare of Tk 10,000-15,000,” the official said wishing anonymity.
In a bid to tackle the crisis, Biman Bangladesh Airlines will operate 16 additional flights on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur-Dhaka route from December 12 to December 31. The national airliner made the decision as per instructions from the civil aviation ministry.
The additional flights would carry about 3,400 passengers from Kuala Lumpur.
Earlier on December 2, the expatriate welfare ministry requested the civil aviation ministry to operate additional flights on the route to bring home Bangladeshi workers from Malaysia.
Private carrier US-Bangla Airlines will also operate three additional flights on December 16, 18 and 20 on the route to meet the growing demand of passengers, said its General Manager (public relations) Kamrul Islam.
Currently, Biman operates 14 flights and US-Bangla seven a week on Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur-Dhaka route, according to officials of the two airlines.
Talking to The Daily Star from Malaysia over the phone, a Bangladeshi worker yesterday said, “We have been trying for a week to buy three air tickets to return home. The travel agencies are asking Tk 57,000 for each ticket, but we cannot afford that.”
He also said travel agencies were saying that Kuala Lumpur-Dhaka tickets were sold out for up to December 18 which was a matter of great concern for them.
Another Bangladeshi migrant worker demanded the government take immediate measures to resolve the ticket crisis.
The Malaysian government says “back for good” (B4G) programme is an initiative to give illegal migrants, who overstayed their visas or stayed without a valid pass or permit, the opportunity to return home voluntarily after paying a minimum fine of RM 700 (about Tk 14,250).
If any illegal migrant refuses to participate in the programme, he will face punishments, including imprisonment, whipping, and fine, say the authorities.
The government of Malaysia had announced on July 18 that it would implement the B4G programme from August 1 to December 31 to cut the number of illegal migrants in the country. The programme aims at reducing the number of illegal migrants, according to Malaysian newspaper reports.
A senior official of the Bangladesh expatriate welfare ministry said the returnees would be eligible for going to Malaysia again after one year.
He said around 20 lakh foreign workers, including Bangladeshis, earn their living in Malaysia. Many of them are staying there illegally.
Under a previous amnesty programme, around 840,000 illegal migrants were repatriated from Malaysia between 2014 and August last year, said Malaysian newspapers.
Ahsan Habib, managing director of Ark Travels in Dhaka, said Bangladeshi migrant workers usually fly on Malaysian budget airlines Malindo Air and Air Asia. They charge passengers Tk 25,000 to 30,000 for each return ticket on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur-Dhaka route, but they are now asking about Tk 50,000 for a one-way ticket.
A total of six airlines operate 59 flights a week on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur route. Of them, Biman and Malaysian Airlines operate 14 flights, Malindo 13, US-Bangla and Air Asia seven each and Regent Airways three flights.