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Thursday, November 5, 2020 10:44:03 PM
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More expats likely to return but govt seems nonchalant

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THE migrant workers' crisis, which emerged after the outbreak of novel coronavirus, further deepened with the government response marred by inappropriate decisions coupled with delayed and inadequate actions. Thousands of migrant workers, mostly from Gulf countries, came home on holidays early this year and subsequently got stuck amid the pandemic.
The authorities concerned did not chalk out adequate plans to ensure that the workers return to the workplaces smoothly once normalcy returns. As a result, a huge number of the workers with expired re-entry visas and residence permits endured untold sufferings when Saudi Arabia, the biggest labour market for Bangladesh, stopped automatic visa extension but resumed air communications. They had to take to streets for plane tickets and extension of the tenure of visa and Iqama (residency permit), forcing the authorities concerned to hold meetings to resolve the problems.
On the other hand, the government initiative, taken in April to provide special loan facilities to returning migrants who lost jobs abroad amid the pandemic, got delayed due to bureaucratic tangles at the Expatriate Welfare Ministry. Labour migration experts say the government lacked farsightedness in the absence of coordinated efforts between Ministries and Agencies. The Expatriates' Welfare Ministry could have played a pivotal role. Migrant workers' crisis may deepen further if comprehensive steps are not taken, as more workers are expected to return to the country in coming months.
Obviously the administration knew that these people had to return. So why did no proper strategy exist to deal with it? Remittances play the most important part in keeping our balance of payments in the black --- to the tune of USD 18.3 billion. But there was no policy coherence between the Ministries of Civil aviation, Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment and Foreign Affairs. The government's decisions -- like making Covid-19 test mandatory for all out-going passengers irrespective of destination countries, and fixing Tk 3,500 as fee for such passengers --- were made on an ad hoc basis and without due plan and strategy. As a result, he added, workers unnecessarily faced harassment and exploitation.
 The government does not care to listen public grievances. We only highlight the problems.

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