Beaten, bruised, unfed and empty-handed, thousands of migrant workers from the Asian countries – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Philippines – have been returning home from Saudi Arabia
Workers from the above countries are being forced to return to their respective homelands after they had suffered long working hours, irregular wages, untimely food and sexual abuses – treatment that are usually reserved for slaves. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where domestic female workers' demand is high, has therefore become source of anxiety for the labour-sending countries.
Though all of these countries largely depend on remittance for their economy, the differences in their response to slavery of their own citizens in the destination country is something that say a lot about their respective positions vis-à-vis such abuses.
Nepal and the Philippines heavily rely on remittances for their economic growth and stability, still they have raised their voices against the barbarity their workforces face in the gulf kingdom. Whereas, the other countries seem to be playing the role of silent bystanders.
On the index of economic progress, Nepal is now far behind Bangladesh, but it has prioritised their workers' rights over remittance. Nepal has placed a ban on sending their female domestic workers to Saudi Arabia. They initiated some plans for the rehabilitation of the returnees.
Even the Pilipino government is looking for opportunities elsewhere and is set to stop sending their workers despite struggling with their economy.
As for Bangladesh, a debate is raging over banning on migration of female workers to Saudi Arabia. Though the authorities have castigated the untimely deportation and sexual assaults on female workers, Bangladesh government does not want a complete ban on the migration of their workers to Saudi Arabia.
In fact, Bangladesh is planning to send around 11,100 more expatriates to Saudi in the current fiscal year.
In an interesting turn of event, once the other Asian countries had restricted sending their female workers, Saudi Arabia proposed to Bangladesh that they would take two male workers for a female one and Bangladesh willingly taking this opportunity.
Nepal, on the other hand, has demonstrated that they care about their workforces. It has some clearly defined action plan – it provides the rape victims with immediate support and safe abortion.
Unfortunately, Bangladesh do not have any such programme.
The contrast can be observed in many other registers. Philippines demanded access to the employers' information while Bangladesh cannot ensure the promised job for their workers in the destination country yet.
The recruiting agencies are playing foul with the innocent workers. But the country is yet to take any strict action.
Many deported workers, especially women cannot return to normal life after falling victim to sexual harassment and other forms of horrific experiences. Nepal provides psychological treatment but in Bangladesh the returnees are sent back home without any treatment.
However, the worst situation persists in India. Even though India is receiving the amount of remittances of around USD 79 billion, it does not have a migration policy. They are managing migration with a backdated Emigration Bill of 1983. The issue has been raised in their parliament recently, says The Lede. They have signed some Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with the gulf countries but they lack strict migration policy.
India, Sri Lanka, Nepal have awareness raising programmes to educate the workers before sending them to the destination country but Bangladesh does not have any such programme.
However, not just Bangladesh, India and Pakistan with flourishing economy and prospering industrial sector, seem to be less concerned about safeguarding the basic labour rights of their nationals in Saudi Arabia.
For safe migration, they provide information through a mobile app. They also address the complaints of the migrant workers by an Alternative Dispute Resolution System.
To help the returnees start life afresh, they provide them with skills certification and an amount of Nepali rupees around 10,00,000 for doing business.
Nepalese workers are required to buy life insurance policy worth Rs1.5 million and Rs5 lakh insurance against critical illness before getting work permit in abroad, says The Himalayan.
The civil society organisations offers physiological counselling, paralegal counselling and family counselling to the women for reintegration.
They also have safe abortion programme for the rape victims. They have separate shelters for male and female victims, and scholarship offer for the returned women and children to resume their education. Also, they provide pregnant women with safe institutional delivery and day-care facilities.
The victims get legal support even in the destination country.
The Philippines's migration system deemed 'good' by The World Bank. They follow most of the legal frameworks sincerely. The country has imposed some conditions in their bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia - doubling the monthly salary of their workers and giving access to information of the employers. In response, Saudi has banned the total employment of the Pilipino workers.
They condemned the kefala system that restricts the workers to change their job and their mobility and called for a global response to the brutality of the Saudi employers.
The Pilipino parliamentary working groups made new rules and regulations to safeguard their workers.
Sri Lankan migrant workers can lodge complaints through different centres of their employment bureau. The wing also offers a hotline number for receiving complaints.
The government welfare services offer compensation to the returnee workers on humanitarian grounds. They have childcare, day-care centres, child protection programme and a project called Sahana Housing Project for the physically impaired migrant workers.
Their civil society organisations counsel the workers, raise awareness, conduct research and reform policies accordingly as well as having capacity building programmes.
India has an app and a multi-lingual 24X7 helpline which provides information, guidance to the Indian workers. They use social media platform for the follow up of the cases.
Indian workers mostly from Kerala go to the gulf. They use the media for raising awareness and finding the missing workers. They try to track down the missing workers abroad through the popular TV show 'Pravasalokam' with the assistance of the viewers, social workers and expatriate communities.
The Indian government has different Memoranda of Understandings with all the six Arab Gulf countries and the Ministry of External Affairs has different wings to address the grievances of the workers. They do not have any bilateral or multilateral treaties to protect their workers, the issue has been raised in the Indian Parliament, says The Lede.
Forty-six percent less-skilled workers have gone to different countries across the globe in the last ten years, as per Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) data.
BMET has launched a mobile app 'Ovijog' and online complaint box where the migrant workers can lodge complaint with supporting evidences. It received 850 complaints so far.
BMET also introduced a one stop service centre for migrant workers at Eskaton where the expatriates get all necessary documents there.
Wage Earners' Welfare Board (WEWB) provides emergency support to the migrant workers. They also give them legal assistance in their repatriation, ensure their protection of social and economic reintegration.
The board help the bereaved families of the deceased migrants carry the bodies and bear the burial cost. They also provide scholarship to the meritorious children of migrant workers and support the physically impaired children and other dependents. An Act has been enacted in 2018. As per the act, the board has to submit an annual report on its activities to the government within four months after the end of each financial year. It also has helpdesk Prabash Bondhu Call Centre to solve the issues of migrant workers.
Brac Migration Programme provides the returnee migrant workers with necessary medicines and food on arrival.
Pakistan's overall migration system is termed 'weak' by The World Bank. Besides sending back Pakistani unskilled workers, Saudi Arabia also launched a crackdown on Pakistani doctors. They no longer recognise the medical degree of Pakistan. Nearly 1,000 Pakistani doctors are deported from the country.
Around 3,300 Pakistanis are in detention in the gulf for forgery, drug, trafficking, illegal border-crossing, theft and bribery. The crackdown laid off against Pakistani workers considering them as security threat. Pakistan had a bilateral talk with the Saudi counterpart for the release of their nationals.
However, with human trafficking and forced slavery, Saudi Arabia defying international labour law still practices medieval barbarism on the foreign domestic workers – especially from the Asia and Africa. Every citizen has some basic human rights that must be protected by their state. It is surprising that only Nepal and the Philippines are concerned about their workers while India despite ranked first in earning remittances do not have any migration policy while Bangladesh and Pakistan are also looking forward to the resolution from Saudi Arabia rather than imposing any strict conditions on employment of their workers.