Md Mohiuddin, a resident of Free Port area of Chattogram metropolitan area arrived from Saudi Arabia on January 8 on leave. He was slated to return to Saudi Arabia on March 25. He could not go because the flight was canceled due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
His visa expired on March 26 and the supplier company in Saudi Arabia – where he worked – said that they do not need his services anymore.
His savings are running out and there are no employment opportunities in the country right now. Mohiuddin now is struggling to support his family – consisting of his wife and two daughters.
Other migrants like Mohiuddin are living in inhumane conditions because of the outbreak of Covid-19. Many have lost their ways to back in their destination countries as their visas have expired.
They also cannot earn money in the country because of the fallout of the novel coronavirus.
A study conducted by Young Power in Social Action-YPSA, a social development organisation on migrants returning from abroad to different parts of Chattogram Division, has found economic crisis, social inequality, social polarisation and extreme uncertainty among the migrants who returned from abroad.
Some 15 lakh people of Chattogram are working in different parts of the world, according to the information of Chattogram District Employment and Manpower Office. Of these, one million are in: Oman, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
YPSA conducted a study on those migrants who returned from the Middle East and Europe.
Among the returning migrants, 80 percent of them have valid work permits and a large portion of them are unable to communicate with their foreign employers. So, they are worried.
The YPSA study also found 60 percent of returnees are running out of money, and they are now borrowing it from relatives. The outbreak of Covid-19 has plunged them into a vicious cycle of poverty.
The study also reveals that the average monthly income of the migrants was Tk30,000. Most of the migrants returning from abroad are in debt.
According to the study, about 40 percent of them took out loans before they went abroad. So far, 49 percent of the migrants have not been able to repay their loans.
Many of the foreign returnees have run out of their savings and cash. They are also unable to find work at the local level due to government holidays and limited communications. So, they are now facing a severe financial crisis.
The study of YPSA also said that many of the foreign returnees faced social inequality and some are at risk of contracting Covid-19.
Md Abdus Sabur, programme manager of YSPA told The Business Standard that at least 50,000 migrants came to Chattogram district on holiday from January to May this year.
"They could not go back because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. We have collected information about those people who returned from abroad," he said.
Abul Kashem, a returnee from Dubai at Chandnaish upazila in Chattogram, said he returned home on March 24 on a 40-day leave.
"However, because of the [novel] coronavirus, I could not go back as the flights were suspended. And my visa also expired at the end of April. I have spent all the savings in this time. It is tough for me to support my five-member family. If I cannot go back, I will face some tough times," he said.
The research of YPSA aims to provide emergency food, healthcare equipment and cash to at-risk migrants and their families. It also aims to enlist those who do not have savings, or those who have not yet repaid loans.
The aims also include helping migrants who are unable to communicate with their employers, providing financial assistance to the returnees during their return, and others.
Mohammad Zahirul Alam Majumder, deputy director of the Employment and Manpower Office in Chattogram, told The Business Standard that the destination countries will take a decision about the visa extension and taking back the stranded migrants once the shutdown is lifted.
"The government has spoken to the countries concerned. The countries concerned have agreed to take back the migrants," he added.