Migrant worker:Exploited at home, unscrupulous recruitment practices irregular wages, terrible working conditions and, movements restrictions..

migratory workerThe 21st century has been described as the era where migration has been proved to become second nature to man, being termed as the 'Age of Migration'. Not only individuals, but also countries now enjoy financial, structural and social benefits from migration as sending, receiving and transit countries. Migration has contributed largely to the economic development of both home and the host countries. It has led to the positive transfer of skills, knowledge, creating channels for the developing countries to link out with the rest of the world.

For Bangladesh remittances earned by migrant workers account for a major chunk of foreign currency reserves boosting the economy and contributing to the country's overall development. Yet the travails of migrant workers are many, starting from the financial burden of agency fees to poor working conditions to unfriendly policies that make their lives harder than it should be.

There are two types of voluntary international migration that take place in Bangladesh -- long-term migration and the short-term migration. Long-term migration is usually made to the west and generally includes those with permanent residency, work permit holders and professionals. Short-term migration is usually made to the Middle Eastern countries and South East Asian countries, where a majority of the workers from Bangladesh migrate. It involves contractual work. These short-term migrants are classified under professional, skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers.

Migrant workers are one of the most susceptible sections of the labour force in Bangladesh. At least five million Bangladeshis live abroad sending around USD 6 billion remittances every year -- a major source of the government's foreign exchange. They are forever facing hardships both at home and in the host countries. Most of the migrant workers come from rural villages in Bangladesh and are often taken advantage of by various agents and middlemen. They are made to pay large sums of money to migrate to another country, just to go through yet another series of harassment by their foreign employers.

It is not only the families of the migrant workers that benefit from the hard-earned savings that they send home. The remittance that these migrant workers send back to the country contributes immensely in terms of structural and financial developments.

Remittance is currently, the second highest foreign exchange earning sector after garments manufacturing. According to the research done by RMMRU, for the last two decades, remittances have been around 35 per cent of export earnings, making it the single largest source of foreign currency. If the cost of import of raw materials is adjusted, then the earnings from remittances are higher. Remittances also constitute an important source of the country's budget.
According to Bangladesh Bank, migrant remittances increased from USD 3.06 billion (2002-2003) to USD 3.85 billion (2004-2005). Currently, most of the country's remittances come from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, amounting to a total of USD 1462.41 million, where the maximum number of the labour force from Bangladesh migrate to. The Bangladesh Bank reserves hold an amount of almost USD 5 billion as foreign exchanges from remittances and hopes to reach the USD 6 billion mark by the end of this year.

Dr. Siddiqui's paper on 'Safe Migration and Remittance' points out the unscrupulous recruitment practices that have led to high costs, fraud and pauperisation of a section of migrant workers. Because the laws, ways of society, the environment and even the nature of the employers are so unpredictable to the migrant worker on his or her way to work far away from home, many workers are exploited and taken advantage of. For instance, they are given irregular wages, they are made to work in terrible working conditions and, sometimes, even their movements come under heavy restrictions. Upon return, says Siddiqui, the migrants' plight continues in the absence of institutional opportunities for economic reintegration.

Sumaiya Islam, the Project Director Bangladesh Ovibashi Mohila Sramik Association (BOMSA) says, " Two major issues that the government should look into are right to information and national focus regarding migration to other countries. When a major chunk of the contribution to the country's economy depends on the remittance that the migrant workers send to Bangladesh, there should be proper policies implemented by the government, so that the migrant workers are not taken advantage of in their home countries and also their host countries."

According to Sumaiya, female migrant workers are supposed to migrate for free, since the visas and the travel costs come from private employers looking for homeworkers. "In fact, they are also provided with USD 200 along with the visa," she says, "Where does the money go? It's obvious that the recruitment office keeps it."

It is difficult to describe when these migrant workers return home. They are treated inhuman by the customs and immigration officials at the airport. They have to pay a huge amount of money when they leave the coutry and when they return many loses all their earned money through ill advises from unscrupulous agents.

Many migrant workers believe that if not VIP treatment, there should be some added benefits, too for them when they enter the country. They should be given a tax holiday, check-in and clearing facilities at the airport have to be improved. The authorities should put more emphasis on this neglected sector by giving the migrant workers more incentives, and it can also come up with investment packages that will help build a prosperous Bangladesh. There must be recognition for those who toil in extreme circumstances in an alien land. A proper effective migration policy is integral to the economic development of our country. It could make a world of difference to the lives of hundreds and thousands of migrant workers of this country (E. Karim, Daily Star, June 30, 2007).

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