PROKAS Case Study: Giving a voice to migrants

October 23, 2016

When Mouwlana Faruque Ahmed paid 350,000 taka ($4,300) to an employment agent, he thought it would signal the start of a new life. He had decided that he wanted to leave his native Bangladesh and find work in Saudi Arabia as a labourer.  “I was told that my contract would be for two years,” he said. “But when I reached Jeddah, my sponsor told me that my visa was only valid for six months.” 

Mr. Ahmed paid 8,500 Saudi Riyals ($2,260) to extend the visa, but he didn't receive the extension and eventually his work permit expired. He was arrested for staying in the country illegally and spent 13 days in prison. He returned to Bangladesh having spent all his savings and with nothing to live on. Now aged 50, he becomes visibly distressed as he tells his story, going on to explain that he never received any compensation, even though he had been defrauded by the employment agent. He puts this down to the fact that he never received any information about the government arbitration process or the availability of legal support for filing cases against unscrupulous agents.

Mr. Ahmed’s case is far from unusual. Every year, tens of thousands of Bangladeshis travel overseas looking for work and trying to find a way to support their loved ones back home. Many of them face the same challenges he experienced in Saudi Arabia and many of them never receive the support they need.

GFMD 2016

 In early December, the 9th summit of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) will take place in Dhaka. This will follow this year’s Civil Society Days, organised to as part of the GFMD meetings to bring representatives of civil society into discussions and contribute to the wider discussion around migration.

The Bangladesh Civil Society Coordination Committee on GFMD 2016 includes NGOs, migrant activists and academics working at grassroots and national levels to prepare for the GFMD. In conjunction with the Welfare Association for the Rights of Bangladeshi Emigrants, it organised a divisional consultation in Sylhet, to prepare for the GFMD and improve understanding of civil society’s role in the event.

One of the clearest themes to emerge from the consultation was the need for better co-ordination among agencies to improve safety for migrant workers.

 “Only a joint effort of government, local leaders and civil society can ensure safe migration,” said Ms. Nasrin Jahan Fatema, Women’s Vice Chairman, Sylhet Upazila Sadar.

 Chief Guest Mrinal Kanti Deb, the Additional Divisional Commissioner for Sylhet, said: “This is a problem of exploitation. The dalals (brokers who arrange travel and work permits for migrant workers) belong to the community – we know who the middlemen are; we just need to identify them and take action. We also need to work together – no single authority can solve these problems.”

Participants and Agenda

In total 68 participants attended the program: 11 from the organisers and 57 from NGOs, Government institutions, local government, educational institutions, media, trade unions etc. The agenda featured a keynote address on the GFMD, presentations by aspiring and former migrants and a panel discussion.

 Key Recommendations from participants 

1. Action steps for protection of migrant workers

2. Action steps for protection of migrants on the move

·         Ensure quality training at Technical Training Centres following standard curricula/lesson plans

·         Ensure valid international training completion certification

·         Promote decent process of recruitment for female migrant workers

·         Formulate a strong regulatory framework for regulating the activities of recruiting agencies and middlemen

·         Raise awareness about the value of conducting a cost-benefit analysis before migration

·         Strengthen the services of the District Employment and Manpower Office and decentralise ministerial services

·         Effective utilisation of remittances

·         Effective implementation of Migration and Overseas Employment Act 2013.

·         Strengthen the services of the migrants’ welfare desk at the airport to assist migrants in any crisis during departure and arrival

·         Create alternative employment opportunities in environmentally affected areas (Haor areas-wetlands) during the winter