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20 lakh Bangladeshi migrants may face deportation

The remittance inflow in Bangladesh dropped by around 12 percent in March as the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the host countries of Bangladeshi migrants

Bangladesh's remittances will likely see further erosion as around 20 lakh Bangladeshi migrants face possible deportation after the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of them would return from middle eastern countries.

Experts have estimated this number considering different factors in the sector. The government is concerned about the issue, and trying to project the potential number of migrants who may face deportation. 

Additionally, the government is negotiating with host countries and using different measures of diplomatic activities to stop the deportation process.

At present, Bangladesh is under pressure to bring back its undocumented expatriate citizens. Sources said that around two lakh undocumented migrants may return, in the next few months from different countries. 

Experts say that from among the 1 crore Bangladeshis in the global job market, 20 lakh may return home from many countries – due to job cuts and economic recessions in the host countries in the post-novel coronavirus slump.

Furthermore, if the pandemic situation does not abate by September this year, Bangladesh will fail to send at least 4.5 lakh workers into the global job market. 

In the meantime, More than 6,66,000 expat workers returned to Bangladesh between January and mid-March.

Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, secretary of the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, said, "We do not know how long the current situation will continue and what the impact will be on host countries. Yes, there may be an economic impact and all the migrants will face a hard time. As Bangladeshis are there in large numbers, they may be affected in a big way.

"We are aware that there may be a crisis and we need to plan how we will rehabilitate and reintegrate the migrants. We are also trying to negotiate with the countries to keep our nationals there. If we are successful, we may not face a hard time," he added.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen repeatedly said that the government will consider the issue on a case-to-case basis. "If the host country desires so, Bangladesh will bring back its citizens," he said.

The minister, himself communicating with the countries, briefed the missions to communicate and negotiate with host officials. In addition to that, the government is taking up the issue to multilateral level.

Recently, raising the issue at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC) ministerial meeting, Dr Momen urged the members to prioritise the issue of job retention of domestic and resident migrant workers – especially Muslim migrant workers – so that a sudden shock of unemployment can be cushioned and the social balance can be preserved. 

He also requested the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag to support Bangladesh in ensuring the welfare of expatriate Bangladeshis in the Middle East.

Key destinations of Bangladeshi migrants 

In 1976, Bangladesh entered the international job market and around 11.3 million Bangladeshis have since gone overseas. 

According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), in January and February around 1.29 lakh Bangladeshis entered the global market. Among them, more than 95 thousand are in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is the largest job market for Bangladeshi migrants, with at least 20 lakh migrants, and is the highest remittance earner for the country. 

However, early this year a report from the Prime Minister's Office, Bangladesh says, at least 50 percent of Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia may lose their jobs upon their job permits expiring and become undocumented.

The Bangladesh mission in Saudi Arabia also wrote to Bangladesh's government requesting an initiative to take up the issue. 

According to the mission, the Arab country may face delays in development projects due to low oil prices as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Saudi Arabians assume that it could take up to the end of the year to restart normal activities.

Experts also say, other oil-rich Middle Eastern countries may face the same fate due to the economic crisis. Bangladeshi migrants in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman may also face deportation.

The UAE, the second-largest destination for Bangladeshi migrant workers, had recruited more than 23 lakh Bangladeshis since 1976. More than one million Bangladeshis are now working there. The country stopped recruiting from Bangladesh in October 2012 and was supposed to restart hiring last March. 

However, it has been put on the back burner because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the expatriate welfare ministry and Bangladesh embassy in the host countries, there are more than 50 thousand undocumented Bangladeshis in Oman. 

Around 20 thousand workers are undocumented in Kuwait and among them, around five thousand have availed the facility of a general amnesty to return home. 

About 40 thousand of 1,80,000 Bangladeshis in Bahrain have become irregular migrants. Recently, the Bahrain authority announced a general amnesty and gave the undocumented migrants a window to regularise their status.

According to the foreign ministry, around 38 thousand Bangladeshis are undocumented in the Maldives. They have to return within a few weeks. The regular migrants in the country may also face the same fate due to job cuts in the post pandemic situation.

Sources said, undocumented Bangladeshis in Singapore and Malaysia also may face deportation. The post-pandemic situation may create more problems for Bangladeshi migrants in these countries.

Impact on remittances

The remittance inflow in Bangladesh dropped by around 12 percent in March as the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the host countries of Bangladeshi migrants.

According to the Bangladesh Bank's data, the remittances dropped to $1.29 billion from $1.46 billion in March. The country received $1.69 billion last December, which declined further to $1.64 and $1.45 billion in January and February, respectively.

According to experts, it is obvious that remittances will decrease drastically in April and the coming days as the novel coronavirus has brought economic activities almost to a standstill around the world – including in Middle Eastern countries.

Bangladesh's top 15 sources of remittances are: Saudi Arabia, UAE, US, Kuwait, UK, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Italy, Bahrain, Singapore, South Africa, France, South Korea, and Jordan.

Experts are trying to predict the impact migrants returning home will have on remittances. There are contradictory assumptions coming from them. Some say that the country will face a drastic fall of remittances and the country will face serious problems in accommodating these returnees.

Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit (RMMRU) founding chair Tasneem Siddiqui thinks that Bangladeshi remittances will have negative growth if a huge number of people return home. 

"Government should have two-way initiatives to face the adverse effect of the returnee. Our skilled workers – who worked on large projects overseas – can be used in mega projects of the country, where foreign workers are employed. Additionally, with training and financial support, the government can employ the returnees. Similarly, diplomatic initiatives need to be continued," she said.

Appreciating the government's bilateral and multilateral diplomacy she added, "If some sector is closed for Bangladeshi migrants, new avenues will open. For this, the government should be proactive in searching for a job market and preparing the workers with training for that market."

Created: May 13, 2020 Last updated May 13, 2020