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Bangladeshi migrant workers struggle to return to work abroad amid pandemic

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News Desk :
They spend a tiny portion of what they earned from serving, cooking and cleaning the utensils in a restaurant on themselves and send the bulk of their wages back home to run their families, reports bdnews24.com.
A large group of migrant workers are now worried that they may lose that opportunity as they are stuck in Bangladesh having returned home during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. They have no idea when they can return to their workplaces.
Many of them failed to get assurances from the foreign embassies about a return after visits. They are dreading the possibility of their visas and iqamas, or stay permits, expiring.
Shah Ahmed Russell, who manages a restaurant in Malaysia, came home on a holiday in March. He was scheduled to fly back in April but could not return as flights were banned due to the pandemic.
"My visa expired in September but I got it extended in a bid to return to my workplace. But I've no information about how to return. The embassy does not provide any information. We can't even talk to any of the officials there," Russell told bdnews24.com.
Khaleq Munshi from Shariatpur has been a cook in a restaurant in Malaysia for more than a decade.
Munshi came on holiday in March and has only a month left on his visa, he told bdnews24.com. He has borrowed heavily during his seven-month stay at home.
A frustrated Munshi returned to Shariatpur after he waited long outside the Malaysia mission without being able to enter it on Thursday.
"The Malaysian High Commission in
     Dhaka is not responding even though we contacted them several times. They don't even consider us as human beings. Expatriates like us are in severe anxiety. All we want to know is when we can return to our workplace," he said.
Some of the expatriates tested positive for the novel coronavirus on their return to Italy. The country then closed its borders to Bangladeshis and later announced that no Bangladeshis can enter Italy this year.
Worried expat workers went to the Italian embassy to request an extension for their work permits and visas.
Hridoy Ahmed from Munshiganj has been a cook in a restaurant in Italy for 10 years. He flew back to Bangladesh at the beginning of the year.
"I came home for two months but have spent almost nine months now. We met the officials in the Italian embassy and asked for an extension of the work permits and visas. We want the flights to Italy to resume soon," he told bdnews24.com on Monday.
"We're going through a financial crisis and in anxiety. We seek assistance from the Bangladesh government to ensure our quick return to Italy," Hridoy said.
Italy on Thursday granted Bangladeshis with valid stay permits to travel to the European country. Those with expired stay permits will have to apply for visas but no new visa will be issued.
Migrant workers from Malaysia now stranded at home have also solicited assistance from the government to return to their country of work.
Saudi Arabia resumed international flights but some problems occurred for the flights from Bangladesh to resume.
Many migrant workers who had already bought tickets of Biman Bangladesh Airlines could not fly to Saudi Arabia as the kingdom had denied Biman permission to operate regular commercial flights to the country.
Saudia, on the other hand, could not cater all of the passengers due to a limited number of flights. The migrant workers in Saudi Arabia began to stage protests outside the Biman and Saudia offices in Dhaka for tickets.
Later, the Saudi government extended the visas and iqama for the stranded workers for 24 days.
A total of 165,658 migrant workers returned to Bangladesh between Apr 1 and Sept 30, according to the Expat Welfare Desk at Shahjalal International Airport.
Among them, 44,616 workers - the most from a single country - returned from the United Arab Emirates. At least 39,818 came back from Saudi Arabia, 14,911 from Qatar, 10,483 from the Maldives, 10,713 from Oman and 9,997 from Kuwait. Also, 7,216 men and 352 women from Malaysia flew back to Bangladesh.
The expatriate workers from Singapore, Kuwait, Bahrain, South Africa, Thailand, Myanmar, Jordan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Russia, Turkey, Nepal, Lebanon, Hong Kong, Japan, United Kingdom, Libya and other countries had returned to Bangladesh due to a lack of work in those countries.
The migrant workers should remain patient and wait, suggested Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, the secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agency or Baira.
"We are in close contact with the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, the parliamentary standing committee on it and the embassies of different countries to ensure the return of our migrant workers. But the workers are soiling the image of the country with the manner in which they are protesting," he told bdnews24.com.
"No countries will be willing to take them back if they feel that these workers will again stage protest in case they don't get a job after reaching the host countries."
"We need to tackle it together when we face a problem," added Noman. "The countries will accept the migrant workers only when they go back to a condition conducive to work amid the coronavirus pandemic. We've to be patient and wait until then. Any unreasonable protest will lead to something bad."
"It is quite natural that the stranded workers would want to return to their workplaces. The government is said to have taken diplomatic initiatives to ensure their return and that can be intensified," said Shariful Hasan, chief of BRAC Migration Programme.
Return of the migrant workers mainly depends on their employers, he believes.
"It will be easier for the migrant workers to return if they have a better understanding with their employers and the employers take the initiative to have them back."
Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad said the government took coordinated initiatives to get the visas and iqamas of the stranded workers extended and also to increase the number of flights to their destinations.
The expats ministry has also moved to register all stranded migrant workers in a bid to assist them in returning to their countries of work.

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