Bangladesh: Global Forum Strives for Rights of Migrants

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
161212-BD-Libya-1000.jpg Migrants from Bangladesh rest in a room at a government housing center for undocumented immigrants in Zawiyah, Libya, Aug. 31, 2016.

Representatives of 130 countries and 30 organizations on Monday ended a conference in Dhaka on global migration by unanimously recommending that they strive for guidelines to save migrant workers from exploitation, officials said.

Their recommendation follows a declaration by the United Nations in September on migrants and refugees that asked U.N.-member states to begin efforts calling for safe, orderly and responsible migration to be adopted by 2018.

The three-day meeting called for reducing migration costs, a move that would benefit countries such as Bangladesh that rely on remittances sent by expatriates to their families back home.

“[M]igration cannot be politicized. It will have to be dealt with as a geopolitical issue. Otherwise, the governance we are talking about will not be a reality. Unless there is (global) governance, there be no end to the high cost (of migration), abuse and exploitation,” Shahidul Haque, Bangladesh’s foreign secretary and chairman of the GFMD, told a press conference on Monday following the meeting.

According to the U.N., the number of international migrants – people living outside the countries where they were born – reached 244 million in 2015. That figure, which represents a 41 percent hike from the year 2000, includes nearly 20 million refugees, the U.N. announced in January.

GFMD attendees agreed that they should aim for an international agreement to “protect the rights of migrants.”

They also called for “open channels to safe and regular movement of workers”; maintaining the integrity of national borders while combatting migrant smuggling and trafficking; providing “effective protection for vulnerable migrants”; and ensuring non-discrimination and access to health, education and labor markets, according to a written copy of Haque’s official summary.

Haque said the proposed compact should ensure migrants’ safety through a declaration mixed with a series of legally binding provisions.

Bilateral efforts failed

The issue is an important one for the people of Bangladesh.

At least 8 million Bangladeshis work in different parts of the world, according to government estimates. The Bureau of Manpower and Employment said expatriates sent about U.S. $162 million (12.8 billion taka) home to their families over the past 40 years.

Bangladesh High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Riaz Hamidullah said a global agreement on migration was needed.

“We have been dealing migration bilaterally for decades, but we practically failed [to protect the rights of the migrants],” Hamidullah told BenarNews.

Syed Saiful Haque, chairman of the Warbe Development Foundation, a Bangladeshi NGO that advocates migrants’ rights, said countries receiving migrant workers mostly have the upper hand over Bangladesh in negotiations.

“So, you see, one migrant spends up to 500,000 taka (U.S. $6,300) for a job in Saudi Arabia. Most of the money goes to the middle men involved in visa business,” he told BenarNews.

“If we can, through global governance, keep migration costs low, the trend of selling homesteads for an overseas job will end. Bangladesh will highly benefit from such moves,” he said.

‘We depend on the migrant workers’

Vilbard Usika, employment equity commissioner of Namibia, told BenarNews that migrant workers played a significant role in his country.

“Yes, we depend on the migrant workers for skilled jobs. The migrants should be treated with honor and respect as they contribute hugely to the development of the host countries,” he said.

But migrant workers are not always respected.

“You will get millions of poor workers who take loans from the local money lenders with exorbitant rates with a hope of earning a smart amount abroad. When they see the wage is less than $150 [11,886 taka], many of them get involved in petty criminal activities to pay back the money lenders back home,” Abdul Motaleb Hossain, a Bangladeshi migrant who has returned from working in Saudi Arabia, told BenarNews.


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