Human Rights Watch Calls on Bangladesh To Protect Migrant Women

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
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161209-BD-migrants-620.jpg Bangladeshi migrant workers line up outside a clinic in Dhaka for pre-departure medical exams, Sept. 3, 2016.
Star Mail

Ahead of an international conference in Dhaka on global migration Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged authorities in Bangladesh to protect the rights of its female domestic workers abroad.

Starting on Saturday, Bangladesh will host the three-day Global Forum on Migration and Development, but Bangladeshi women who work as domestics in the Middle East are exploited and physically abused, U.S-based HRW said.

“Bangladesh has become an outlier in Asia for actively seeking employment of domestic workers in the Middle East, but failing to protect their rights adequately and setting low salaries,” the rights advocacy group said in a statement released Thursday.

“Bangladesh is hosting an important global conference on migration, yet has an abysmal record protecting its own citizens,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Bangladesh should seek the best opportunities for its workers but not at the cost of leaving them without meaningful protections.”

More than 300,000 Bangladeshi women work as domestic help in Middle Eastern countries, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Manpower and Employment.

“Certainly we have been working with governments in the Middle Eastern countries to protect the rights of Bangladeshi female domestic workers there. We cannot protect them by waging war against them. It must be through talks,” Jabed Ahmed, an additional secretary at the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, told BenarNews on Friday.

‘It is better to beg’

HRW told of a worker identified as “Asma K,” who paid an agent in Bangladesh U.S. $750 (60,000 taka) for a job in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The recruiting agent then “sold” her to a man who confiscated her passport and took her to Oman.

He forced her to work 21 hours a day for a 15-member family without any rest or day off; deprived her of food; verbally abused and sexually harassed her; and withheld her entire salary, HRW alleged.

When she pleaded to leave, her employer sent her to an agency in Oman instead.

“The agency beat me that night 50 times with a stick,” Asma K said, according to HRW.

Hasina Begum, 30, who returned from a Middle Eastern country, told BenarNews: “It is better to beg in Bangladesh than to work as domestic worker there. The domestic workers are not human beings to them.”

She said workers would be lucky to get $200 (16,000 taka) per month.

According to Professor Tasneem Siddiqui, who heads the private think-tank Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit in Dhaka, interior ministries in Middle Eastern countries consider domestic workers issues from security perspectives.

Most of those countries that issue visas to workers, she said, favor employers and enable them to exploit the workers.

“So we see lots of rights abuses as non-payment of wages, physical and sexual abuses, confining at houses, and others. If the domestic workers’ service is brought under the ministry of labor in the receiving countries, then the rights abuses could be stopped,” Siddiqui told BenarNews.

She said the UAE government recently included migrant domestic workers under its labor ministry and the Kuwait and Qatar governments have allowed the workers to change their employers.

“So, things are changing in the positive direction, though slowly,” Siddiqui said.

She said those countries that send workers elsewhere should establish a minimum wage standard and chart out a set of rights for domestic workers that must be protected.

“Otherwise, such rights violations would continue,” she said.

Climate change and migration

Among the topics that will be discussed at the Global Forum is the effect of climate change on humanity’s migration patterns.

In Bangladesh, the world’s eighth most populous country, there are fears that low-lying areas could see water levels rise because of global warming, forcing communities to uproot and move elsewhere.

On Thursday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a study warning that climate change could force 15 million people in Bangladesh alone to be displaced by 2050.

The report, titled “Climate Change Knows No Borders,” anticipates that droughts, heat waves, rising sea levels, heavy rainfall and landslides are going to be more severe in the future.

“Climate change is increasing the incidence of these extreme weather events and chronic slow-onset disasters, and these are increasingly forcing people to migrate in search of safety and/or livelihoods,” according to the report.


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