The government has decided to start special flights to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, and Singapore to ensure that migrant workers can reach their destinations, even though international flights have been suspended due to the "strict lockdown" that went into effect from today across the country.
The decision was taken today at an online meeting chaired by Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, and attended by secretaries to the Prime Minister's Office, Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism; Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority and Managing Director of Biman Bangladesh.
At the end of the meeting, secretary to the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Ahmed Munirush Salehin told The Daily Star that the meeting had made three major decisions. The Civil Aviation Authority has been asked to ensure a detailed work plan to launch special flights to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Singapore, so that expatriate workers can travel. In addition, recruiting agencies have to take the responsibility of bringing passengers to the airport in compliance with the health rules, including the coronavirus negative certificate.
The secretary to the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment also said that in case of emergency, the expatriate workers can get clearance from the concerned Bangladesh mission and come to the country with the Covid-19 negative certificate subject to the applicable quarantine conditions.
On April 11, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) decided to suspend all international and domestic flights for a week from April 14. On April 12, the Cabinet Division issued a notification regarding strict restrictions.
The decision to close flights has hurt expatriate workers and businessmen involved in foreign employment. According to their information, at the moment, 50-60 thousand visas are being processed, tickets for 20-25 thousand workers have been issued. The expatriate workers said that after being stuck in the country for a long time, they tried a lot and spent money to book a hotel for quarantine with tickets as per the conditions of the destination country. They will be affected in many ways as flights are canceled.
Despite the target of sending 1 million workers, only 216,000 people went abroad last year because of Covid-19. After overcoming this push, foreign employment has become somewhat normal since the beginning of this year.
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), 35,732 workers went abroad in January this year, 49,510 in February, and 61,653 in March. Millions more are in the process of leaving. But everyone is in crisis due to flight suspension.
Recruiting Agency Unity Parishad has sent a letter to the Minister for Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment yesterday demanding resumption of flights. In the letter, they demanded that the manpower sector be kept out of the scope of restrictions by keeping it under the emergency sector.
The Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB), an organisation of travel agency owners, has demanded the launch of international flights with expatriates in mind. In such a reality, the experts suggested reconsidering the decision to suspend flights. Expatriates say that if flights are suspended, not only expatriate workers but also Bangladesh will be affected.
The writer is a freelance journalist.