The head of Brac Migration Programme urges government and NGOs to work together for helping these expats as they have always kept the country’s economy afloat
Osman Gani's kismet has seen the other side of the coin in only two months.
Once an earner of Tk60,000-Tk65,000 per month by selling vegetables on a floating Malaysia market, the man from Munshiganj has not earned a single penny since March 10 when he returned home due to the lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak in that country.
Now, he has no savings too; nor has he any capital to do something in Bangladesh or to resume the business in Malaysia.
Osman is now afraid of a bleak future in front of him unless he gets any government aid.
Manzur Hossain from Bhola has also been going through a similar state. He used to work as a cleaner at a Singapore hotel until January when the coronavirus outbreak forced the hotel to shut.
Even though the owner continued paying him for two months without any work, Manzur was finally axed from the job and he came back to Bangladesh on March 17.
"I went to Singapore with a cost of Tk11 lakh which I collected by borrowing and selling lands. I could not repay the money even after two years of working there. Now, I am unemployed and have already spent what I had," said Manzur.
Like Osman and Manjur, hundreds of thousands of expatriates have been passing days in hardship. A recent survey by Brac, a non-government organisation, has also found its truth.
About 87 percent of the migrant workers who returned to the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic have no source of income at the moment, according to a survey by Brac.
Thirty-three percent of the returnees can live off their savings for three months or more while 52 percent said they need emergency financial assistance.
The survey was conducted by talking to 558 expatriate workers who have returned since the onset of coronavirus infection worldwide.
In the survey titled "Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of returnee migrants," 92 percent of the respondents were men and the remaining 8 percent women. Some 32 percent of them were below 30 years old, 47 percent were between 31 and 40 years of age, 16 percent were between 41 and 50, and the remaining 5 percent were over the age of 50.
Forty percent of the respondents said they had to come back due to the pandemic. Some 35 percent returned on leave or vacation, but are now uncertain over their return, while 7 percent mentioned Covid-19 did not influence their return. Some 18 percent said they came back due to personal and family issues and for other reasons.
Forty-five percent of the respondents came from Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait. About 12 percent returned from Malaysia.
Eighty-six percent of the respondents came back to the country in March. Among them, 62 percent returned in the first two weeks of March and 24 percent in the remaining weeks. Some 14 percent of the respondents returned between January and February.
Eighty-four percent said they maintained 14 days of quarantine after coming back to the country. Fourteen percent did not follow the quarantine period rule and two percent mentioned they were in quarantine for more than a week.
Twenty-nine percent mentioned their neighbours and relatives were not supportive when they came back to the country, but 97 percent said their families were supportive after their return.
Seventy-four percent mentioned they are now depressed and are feeling stress, anxiety, and fear while the remaining 26 percent said they have no mental health issues. A total of 96 percent mentioned they are physically well and 4 percent said they are not.
Eighty-seven percent of the respondents mentioned they do not have any earning source now, and the rest said they are either dependent on family members' income or have a small income from agriculture.
Sixty-nine percent said they have been able to manage their daily expenses from their savings so far. The rest are already dependent on others or have taken loans from different formal and informal sources.
Eighty-four percent do not have any livelihood plan. Only six percent have plan return to their workplace abroad again and the rest are thinking about starting small agriculture or grocery business.
Only nine percent said they are being taken care of by the government and non-government organisations. 52 percent said they are in a dire need of financial assistance for their survival.
One of the returnees, Shaheda Akter, said, "I was the only earning member of my family. In this situation, I am tense about my future. If this goes on the same for a long period, my situation will get worse."
Shariful Hasan, head of Brac Migration Programme, said the survey was carried out to find out the current situation of the returnees following the pandemic.
"In the days ahead, many more people may lose their jobs and come back. The government has announced easy loans for them," he said.
He said the government should not be alone in standing by these returnees. "Government and non-government organisations must work together because these expatriates have always kept the country's economy afloat. Even during the pandemic, they are sending money from abroad."
"Since January, they have sent a total of Tk55,000 crore. That is why we must stand by them in this time of crisis, especially those who are abroad and who are coming back."
However, the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment said many of the returnees will have the opportunity to go to those countries if the situation returns to normalcy.
Imran Ahmed, minister for the ministry concerned, said efforts are being made to provide financial assistance through the government and development partners for the rehabilitation of the returnees.
Diplomatic efforts continue to facilitate their re-employment abroad through further training while the prime minister has given a package of Tk5,000 crore.
He added: "Discussions are ongoing so that workers, who have come back on holiday and whose visas are about to expire, can go back to those countries.
"However, the government will provide loans up to Tk5 lakh at a maximum interest rate of 4 percent to ensure the employment of those who have returned permanently."