44pc of them died of cardiac arrest
Around 44 percent of the Bangladeshi migrant workers who returned home in coffins between January 1 and May 9 this year, had died of cardiac arrests in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries, raising serious questions about the living standards of migrant workers in those countries.
Cardiologists said acute tension caused by uncertainties of income and unhealthy food habits may lead to deaths by heart attacks, while labour rights activists are emphatic that mental tension caused by low income, debts, and lack of medical care abroad lead to such deaths.
A total of 904 bodies of migrant workers returned home from different countries between January and May, 391 of whom died of cardiac arrests, 268 in workplace accidents, 62 in road accidents, 115 of other sicknesses, and the remaining died due to various other reasons, according to official sources at Zia International Airport (ZIA).
Among the 391 deaths by cardiac arrests, 119 were in Saudi Arabia, 82 in Malaysia, 72 in the United Arab Emirates, 35 in Kuwait, 16 in Oman, 10 in Qatar, 10 in Bahrain, 7 in Singapore, and 2 were in Lebanon the major destinations abroad for Bangladeshi labourers.
The number of deaths of migrant workers abroad has been increasing exponentially since 2004.
Last year, the number of dead bodies transported home was 2,237, which had been 1,673 in 2007, 1,402 in 2006, 1,248 in 2005, and 788 in 2004.
"It is usual that our workers have acute mental tension, as they work far from their relatives, and quite often their incomes are not up to their expectations," said Prof KMHS Sirajul Haque, chairman of the cardiology department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University in the capital.
"Acute mental tension increases the risk of heart attacks," Haque said. Referring to patients who returned from Middle Eastern countries, he said they spent Tk 2 lakh to Tk 3 lakh to go to those countries, but could not earn much.
In the Middle Eastern countries the migrant workers also eat more meat and other fatty foods than vegetables, he added saying, such food habits also increase the risk of heart attacks.
Al-Amin Nayon, executive director of International Migrants Alliance Research Foundation, said it is surprising that many deceased workers aged between 25 and 40 had been medically fit at the time of leaving home, but died in a few months of getting to their workplaces abroad.
Job seekers pay too high a price to go abroad for jobs, but in many cases they can neither recover the money to repay the loan sharks nor can they help their families back home, which make their lives miserable in faraway lands, Nayon added.
Deaths of many such workers overseas in heart attacks have become a matter of public concern in recent times, especially since job cut has become a regular phenomenon due to the ongoing global economic recession.
Rezaul Haque, 40 of Faridpur, is one such victim who died of a cardiac arrest. His body returned home on May 8. He had gone to Dubai 18 months ago, but sent only Tk 40,000 since then, said his sister Mita.
"My brother did not have any job for many months initially. Later, he worked for a company other than the one that originally hired him," Mita said adding that her brother had to spend Tk 2.20 lakh for going to Dubai, most of which had been borrowed at a staggering annual interest rate of 96 percent, and has to be paid in monthly instalments.
Another Bangladeshi worker Ikhtiar, 30, of Naogaon, who died in a Malaysian detention camp early April, had been allegedly tortured by the special immigration police of that country, because he along with some others could not show work permits as those had been retained by their employers.
Mahesh Sarker of Tangail died in late 2007 following months of unemployment and abuses in Malaysia.
There are unimaginable exploitation of workers abroad, but the authorities have done really a little to address the grave problem, said Al-Amin Nayon who returned from Malaysia in late 2007 following abuses by his employer.
"The number of untimely deaths will continue to increase unless the government takes strong measures immediately to ensure migrant workers' jobs and welfare, instead of only being proud of the remittance they send back home," Nayon added.