The expatriates' welfare minister yesterday downplayed the number of Bangladeshi workers dying prematurely abroad and said more people die at home in comparison.
Minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain told journalists at a press briefing at his ministry that for every one crore people in Bangladesh, some 56,700 people die every year and only 3,076 among the 87 lakh migrants died last year.
Migration expert Prof Tasneem Siddiqui of Dhaka University, however, criticised such a notion. She said the migrants are medically fit and are usually young.
She said such quick explanation from the authorities concerned and a lack of interest in finding out the actual causes of the deaths undermine the scope for improving work, health and living conditions of migrant workers, who are considered the lifeline of Bangladesh's economy.
The number of deaths is increasing every year.
Of the 3,076 who died abroad last year, 693 were killed in road and workplace accidents, 19 committed suicide and nine others were murdered, according to the statistics of the Wage Earners Welfare Board under the Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment ministry.
At least 1,738 died of strokes, heart attacks, cancer and other illnesses. The cause of death of 20 overseas workers could not be known.
At least 30.44 percent of the deaths were in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 16.83 percent in Malaysia and 14.46 percent in the United Arab Emirates.
Tasneem Siddiqui, who chairs Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, said the minister's recent statements in parliament that the deaths were natural and “the death rate of migrants is not more than the national average” were unacceptable.
“The minister's remark hardly takes into consideration the ages of the migrants … the average age of the deceased workers was 38 years whereas average life expectancy of Bangladeshis is 70.36 years,” she said.
Besides, the migrants go through all kinds of health tests before leaving the country, she said, adding that why they die so early in their lives was something to be investigated seriously.
Replying to queries, Minister Mosharraf said the government had taken the issue of unnatural deaths of migrant workers seriously and started investigations.
He said excessive migration costs compelled overseas job seekers to work for long hours and to have poor diets and accommodation. These were the main reasons behind migrants' deaths, he claimed.
He also mentioned that they had been trying to reduce migration costs and had also been lobbying labour receiving countries to ensure the workers' safety.
Mosharraf blamed recruiting agencies for charging excessive migration fees and sending more workers than the actual demand.