Saudisation hits hard: 5,500 Bangladeshi expatriates returned home in last one and a half months
Bijoy Mia from Narsingdi went to Saudi Arabia on a driver's visa only eight months ago, but his employer did not get him an Iqama or work permit there. Even, the employer did not take any responsibility for Bijoy when the police detained him.
Finally, he was sent back to Bangladesh on Saturday along with some 145 other who went there by spending several lakhs of taka.
Among the workers were Alamin from Brahmanbaria, Shahjahan from Noakhali, Aminul from Chandpur, Hossain Ali from Narayanganj, Parvez Mia from Moulovi Bazar, and Obaidullah from Satkhira. All of them were sent back within nine months of their arrival at the Middle Eastern country.
One of the returnees, Shahidul, told The Business Standard that he spent Tk3 lakh to go to Saudi Arabia, but he had to return empty-handed.
Like him, a total of 5,500 Bangladeshis have returned home from Saudi Arabia in the last one and a half months, according to the Brac Migration Programme.
According to data from Expatriate Welfare Desk, 64,638 Bangladeshi workers have returned home in 2019.
Shariful Hasan, the head of the Brac Migration Programme, said that 175 female workers returned from Saudi Arabia in January this year alone.
"We do not just provide service to the returnees at the airport. We try to rehabilitate them through counselling, training and financial support.
"This responsibility has to be taken by both government and private organisations. Recruiting agencies also have to be responsible so that people do not return empty-handed. The government and embassies should also look into it," added Hasan.
Monir Hossain Chowdhury, deputy secretary of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, said, "The return of migrant workers has various reasons. Sometimes the employers are the problems, sometimes the workers cannot adjust to the new environment."
"However, the country is now strongly enforcing the Saudisation policy, which means it is preferring local workers to foreigners", he added.
Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) said, "Most of the returnees broke some rule or other in Saudi Arabia. They worked in places different from the area where the Iqama permitted them to work. This action made them undocumented workers."
"However, our embassy should verify the allegation of workers who claimed that they had valid documents," he added.
In October last year, Selim Reza, secretary of the Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, told the Business Standard that the authorities were trying to help the Bangladeshi migrants in Saudi Arabia for the last few years following crackdowns on undocumented migrants.
1.28 lakh Bangladeshi workers deported in 5 years
From 2015 to February this year, 1,28,373 migrant workers have returned from Saudi Arabia.
The year 2019 saw the highest number of returnees, with 64,638 workers coming back from Saudi Arabia.
Many of the returnees did not have passports and work permits when they arrived.
Following their arrival, a support team of government officials at the Probashi Kallyan Desk and officials of the Brac Migration Programme arranged food for them and also assisted them at the immigration.
Meanwhile, at least 900 female migrants, who faced torture and abuse in Saudi Arabia, have returned home last year, according to the Brac Migration Programme.
The returnees alleged of physical, sexual and psychological abuse by their employers.
Saudi Arabia, which reopened its labour market for Bangladeshi workers in 2015 after a seven-year hiatus, recruited 12.44 lakh workers between 2015 and August 2019.
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, around 4 lakh Bangladeshis went to Saudi Arabia until last year and 51,000 so far this year.
Around 11 lakh Bangladeshis are currently living in Saudi Arabia, according to an unofficial estimate.
The figure is still the highest among all the countries where Bangladeshi migrants live.