Workers repatriated because of COVID-19 face a difficult situation
by Sumon Corraya

Over 50,000 women have returned to Bangladesh due to the pandemic. They can't find work and have debts they can't pay. One woman was the victim of violence and did not receive her wages. Research shows that returnees face prejudices at home that make social reintegration difficult.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 500,000 Bangladeshi migrants have had to return home, mostly from the Gulf countries, and over 50,000 are women.

The condition of repatriated women is a great concern in the country. In report based on a survey among returning women who returned since 2020, the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) found that 60 per cent are unemployed and anxious about their joblessness.

About 55 per cent of women were forcibly repatriated by their employer, the BILS study notes. About 7 per cent of them report being the victim of sexual harassment while 38 per cent say they were subjected to beatings and physical harassment. About 87 per cent of migrant women did not receive any wages in the last period of their employment.

BILS deputy director Monirul Islam notes that almost 70 per cent of the interviewees do not have a formal education that would allow them to find a suitable job in Bangladesh.

"However, some of them are very young and have their whole life ahead. This is why social integration is so important to help them rebuild their lives here."

According to the BILS research, discriminatory attitudes towards returning women are a barrier that prevents them from starting a new life at home.

They are often boycotted socially, abandoned by their husbands, or divorced and considered not suitable for good marriages.

One out of every three women in the survey stated that they were perceived as “characterless women” by people around them.

Sufia Begum is a migrant worker who returned recently from Saudi Arabia where she worked as a maid. At present, she lives in Dhaka.

She worked more than 12 hours but was not paid. If she protested, she would be beaten and sexually harassed. When the pandemic broke out, “my employer sent me to my country, empty-handed,” she told AsiaNews. “He threatened my life if I protested about his behaviour.”

In order to work in Saudi Arabia, she took out a loan worth US$ 1,750, which she cannot pay back. Now she lives in inhuman conditions with her two children, while her husband threatens to divorce her for taking out the debt.

Sufia Begum is just one of the countless women who borrowed money from banks or cooperative organisations in order to seek fortune abroad. About 61 per cent of migrant women are in this situation, the BILS report found.

Debts are not the only problem for repatriated workers. According to local media, thousands of returning Bangladeshi women are at risk of physical and sexual assault, as well as poor working conditions.

More than 10 million Bangladeshis live abroad – mostly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Libya, Iraq, Singapore and Malaysia – and through their remittances, they support their families back home.