EU, Bangladesh Discuss Undocumented Bangladeshis in Europe

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
160406-BD-EU-620.jpg Migrants wait to enter a refugee camp after crossing the Greek-Macedonian border, near Gevgelija, Macedonia, Dec. 4, 2015.

An NGO in Bangladesh that represents migrant workers is criticizing as "unfair" diplomatic overtures by the European Union to send home countless Bangladeshis who live in the EU without proper papers.

A visiting delegation from the EU met with Bangladeshi government officials in Dhaka this week to talk about “Bangladeshis in [the] irregular situation in the EU and facilitation of their possible return and reintegration,” according to a joint statement issued by both sides after the first-ever Bangladesh-EU Dialogue on Migration Management.

The statement did not give a timeline for possible deportations or say how many people might be deported, or if this would happen in phases. The statement said both sides had agreed to carry on with their dialogue over the issue.

A move by the EU to go ahead with deporting Bangladeshi migrants would be “a violation of human rights,” said Saiful Haque, who heads the Warbe Development Foundation, a local NGO working to uphold the rights of expatriate Bangladeshis.

“This is because most of the so called ‘irregular Bangladeshis’ have submitted papers for legal status. But the authorities have allowed them to live in oscillating status for years without giving any decision,” Haque told BenarNews, referring to Bangladeshis living in Europe.

He said the authorities should have rejected the applications earlier or granted them legal status, adding that many of these workers have at least five dependents back home.

The number of undocumented Bangladeshis in Western Europe is believed to be in the thousands, and Bangladeshis have been part of a wave of migrants and refugees trying to pour into Europe, according to news reports.

The influx – dominated by an exodus of refugees fleeing the war in Syria – is Europe’s biggest irregular migration crisis since World War II. But the EU has started turning away foreign migrants and refugees, and this week began expelling them from Greece, a Mediterranean gateway to Western Europe.

Many Bangladeshis who are a source of cheap labor in Europe have lived for as many as 15 years in some EU member-states, Haque said.

“The deportation of an irregular worker living … [in an EU state] for 15 years is sure to be in trouble, if deported to Bangladesh. He has served that particular country with cheap labor; so deporting him after 15 years is not fair,” Haque added.

For its part, the EU said it had offered Bangladesh cooperation in the field of “awareness-raising on the danger of irregular migration as well as a special program for reintegration of returnees,” while the Bangladeshi side highlighted the government’s policy “of bringing all the people in [the] irregular situation back as well as the need for widening the scope of safe, orderly and regular migration,” according to the joint statement.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the 10-member EU delegation was led by Christian Leffler, the EU’s deputy secretary general for Global and Economic Issues, and the Bangladeshi side was led by Foreign Secretary Md. Shahidul Haque.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews that he asked officials from the European side to deal with the Bangladeshi cases “humanely.”

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Haque told reporters that bringing back undocumented Bangladeshis was a “moral responsibility” of the government.

Expired visas

According to experts, some of the Bangladeshis who live in Europe without proper papers are people who stay on after their student visas expired.

There are even some Bangladeshis who enter Europe on student visas, but who quit their programs of study in order to take odd jobs to support their families back home, experts say.

Nazneen Ahmed, a senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said the EU could not be blamed from a legal perspective for wanting to send home undocumented Bangladeshis.

Such a move would “hugely affect families solely depending on remittances from their expatriate family members,” Ahmed told BenarNews.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.