The insensitive way in which the migrant workers’ crisis has been handled since the onset of Covid-19 seems to indicate that the government only cares about migrant workers when it is time to count their contribution to the GDP but not when it is time to take care of their pressing concerns. Despite repeated pleas to the government from the workers themselves, as well as from migration experts, to prepare for the severe repercussions of an impending fallout due to the pandemic, the authorities deployed their usual rhetoric of “all is well”, wasting precious time that should have been spent in formulating and implementing a comprehensive plan to ensure timely and hassle-free return of workers to their workplaces.
The government only started negotiations with Saudi Arabia once the migrants’ permits and iqama had already expired and they took to the streets in hundreds to protest the potential loss of employment. Flights are limited and costly, and there’s still great uncertainty over whether all of them will be able to return on time. Desperate migrants are paying huge sums of money—at a time when they are already strapped for cash and burdened with debts—for flights, while potential migrants who secured visas before the pandemic but could not travel are being made to go through bureaucratic and costly loopholes again, compelled to provide medical reports and “police clearance” certificates along with fresh papers. Charging an additional fee of Tk 3,500 for mandatory Covid-19 test for all out-going passengers has only added to their burdens. There does not seem to be any coordination among the ministries of civil aviation, expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment and foreign affairs, nor any real concern on the authorities’ part about how to reduce the migrants’ ever-increasing woes.
Meanwhile, the initiative to disburse loans at a 4 percent interest rate to affected migrant workers, through the Probashi Kallyan Bank, is yet to gain any traction as a result of bureaucratic delays and complex requirements which act as hindrances to accessing the loans.
The question is, has the government learnt anything from all this? Is it in a better position to ensure that similar fates do not await those who will be returning to their host countries soon? Are they conducting negotiations with those countries to renew their visas and reduce bureaucratic hurdles for the migrants? Will they ensure timely flights? Will the process of procuring loans be simplified? What other steps will be taken to rehabilitate those who may fail to return to work?
We want to have faith that the government will finally start fulfilling its duty to the migrants, but unless the concerned ministries shape themselves up and treat the issue with the urgency it deserves, we are afraid we will see more of the same in the coming months. Our migrant workers certainly don’t deserve such callousness.