Govt may offer soft loans to returnees
The government mulls offering soft loans to Bangladeshi expatriate workers returning from Libya to support their rehabilitation.
This loan would be made available from a new financial institution Expatriates Welfare Bank, said Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Secretary Zafar Ahmed Khan.
"We are planning to take up programmes through the Expatriates Welfare Bank to rehabilitate the returnees," added Khan, also the chairman of the bank.
However, the authorities are yet to fix the interest rate of the loan. The affected workers can use this loan either to start a new business or go abroad with jobs sometime later, the secretary told The Daily Star.
The bank is set to commence operation on April 20 with a paid up capital of Tk 100 crore.
Aiming to help expatriate workers at various stages, the present government planned this bank soon after it took over in 2009.
The government has sought World Bank's low interest financing to help the bank start its soft credit programme, sources in the finance ministry said.
Thousands of Bangladeshi expatriate workers are returning home after fleeing Libyan turmoil as its ruler Muammar Gaddafi's force is facing a violent battle from his opponents to stay in power.
The Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), with assistance of the immigration department at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, is keeping record of the returnees. This would help the bank identify the valid candidates for the soft loan, noted a BMET official.
Around 24,000 expatriates have already arrived home, while 6,000 more are waiting at some refugee camps in Egypt and Tunisia on their way home.
There are about 30,000 workers still staying in Libya. They could return home if the clashes continue, an official of Bangladesh mission in Libya said.
According to the returnees, many of them could not recover the amount they spent to go there. Some of them even sold land and other movable properties to arrange their migration costs amounting around Tk 2.5 lakh.
Salaries of many of the workers are months in arrears as their employers left immediately after the clashes began in mid-February. Looted by unruly Libyans, they are left penniless and could only see a bleak future.
Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) held a meeting on March 10 to find out a way to help the affected expatriates who send home around $11 billion a year. Many consider this amount as the lifeline to country's economy.
Terming this a national crisis, FBCCI President AK Azad had announced creating a fund for the workers. But no decision has been made yet in this regard.
Economists and immigration activists said the affected returnees should be provided with some cash immediately so they could overcome the trauma they went through in Libya. Gradually, they could be helped with jobs or finances for business.
In the wake of recent global economic recession, the government provided incentives to several export oriented business sectors. The government also gives subsidy or price incentives to the farmers when prices of agricultural inputs are high.
However, thousands of expatriate workers did not receive any such benefit when they were forced to return home in 2008 and 2009 after losing jobs in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Malaysia during the recession.
The government is not planning to give either any immediate cash or healthcare support to the returnees. A worker receives only Tk 1000 on arrival in Dhaka.
"I don't think any aid or donation works effectively. Engaging them in economic activities could better work," observed Zafar Ahmed Khan.
The World Bank has committed to give $20-30 million to help the government cover part of the repatriation costs of Bangladeshi workers, a finance ministry official said.
The government can use part of this money to provide credits to the returnees, said Khan.
Besides, the expatriates welfare ministry has asked the Economic Relations Division to find if any development partner could come forward to contribute to the process.
To realise the overdue salaries of the workers, the government is in contact with the embassies of various countries whose companies employed Bangladeshi workers in Libya, sources in the expatriates welfare ministry said.
South Korean, Chinese, Turkish and Pakistani companies employed Bangladeshis in the North African country.
Ali Haider Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies, said they have no plan to rehabilitate the returnees but would cooperate with any government initiative.