Migration experts and sector specialists believe the urge of searching for jobs overseas through irregular channels is increasing day by day, as the scope for seeking jobs through legal channels has shrunk.
This partly explains the humanitarian crisis that surfaced as thousands of Bangladeshi migrants were discovered fleeing by sea to reach job markets in Malaysia. But the Bangladesh government minister responsible for sending economic migrants abroad believes the enticements on offer from human traffickers plays a greater role in making people choose the risky voyage.
With most countries in the Middle East and Malaysia cutting down on jobs for Bangladesh migrants through legal channels, for a variety of reasons, poor people have chosen maritime routes to go Malaysia despite risks, said the experts.Human traffickers have also allured the jobseekers to choose the sea route after trapping them.
Thousands of Bangladeshis and Burmese Rohingyas have thus reached Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Thousands more are said still floating at sea, and the United Nations has warned that time to save them is running out.
Indonesia claims that nearly 7,000 of these would-be migrants who were stranded at sea before being saved by Indonesian fishermen are illegal workers from Bangladesh, not Rohingya Muslims who flee persecution from Myanmar’s Arakan state.
On May 24, a mass grave, believed to have contained nearly 100 Rohingya migrants, was found in Padang Besar, Malaysia.
Earlier in the same month, Thailand found some 30-plus graves suspected to be of trafficked migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh in an abandoned jungle camp.
The Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) at Dhaka University’s executive director Prof CR Abrar said some jobseekers are going abroad illegally despite having the financial capability to avail the legal channels – this must mean the legal channels are unable to accommodate them.
That then means poor people try and get to Malaysia and Thailand by sea spending Tk 10,000-12,000 each through brokers. They end up being kidnapped by human traffickers and some get killed if their family members fail to pay ransom, he said.
Prof Abrar said if they would get the chance for regular migration, they would not choose this unlawful way.
Chairman of the Welfare Association for the Rights of Bangladeshi Emigrants (WARBE) Saiful Haque said just 400,000 people go abroad for jobs from the country every year through legal channels, which is very low compared to the demand.
Although 100,000 people were supposed to go Malaysia every year, the government so far has only sent some 8,000 people there to work in their plantation sector through government-to-government recruitment arrangements in the last 2-3 years.
Despite huge demand for manpower existing in other sectors in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is not sending demand note due to the “conspiracy of a vested quarter,” he said.
He said the government is trying to open new labour markets although the old ones remain closed now due to various reasons.
Saiful Haque said “people must make registration to go abroad for jobs according to government requirement. Besides, the chances have shrunk to go overseas through recruiting agencies. Many think that they will not win the lottery for going abroad. So the illegal way is the only way for them.”
The Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) president Abul Bashar said some illiterate people are choosing the sea-route not learning about the risks of sea voyage and being trapped by traffickers. He also alleged that a section of government employees is involved in sending them.
“Some government employees are associated with traffickers to send them by sea. It would not be possible to go without their assistance. If the government can stop the unfair cooperation of its own employees, the illegal and inhuman way will be shut”, Bashar said.
The BAIRA president said even though many people are going to the Middle East through legal channels, their mumbers could have been remarkably increased if the UAE markets were opened, he said, adding that the 7 UAE markets including Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah have remained closed from 2012.
It would be possible to reopen the market if the Bangladesh embassies there engage in effective diplomacy to discover the reasons behind their closureto Bangladesh migrants, Bashar said.
He said the Malaysia government only sent demand notes for the plantation sector. If its government sought to meet the demand in other sectors – like agriculture, manufacturing and service – more Bangladeshi jobseekers would have gotten jobs legally.
Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Engineer Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain has however said it is not right that human trafficking is increasing due to the reduction of legal opportunities. He says those who are choosing the route are enticed to do so by brokers or human traffickers.
“We now send an average five lakh workers abroad every year. We have sent 1.74 lakh people till May this year and more people will be sent abroad within next seven months,” the minister told journalists.
He said “we send workers legally but it is the duty of the Home Ministry to patrol border areas to stop human trafficking. And we expect that the foreign ministry will also take effective steps”.
Engineer Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain said on average 2400 workers are being sent to 160 countries everyday, not just to Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry ources said 5,68,062 people were sent abroad in 2011, 607,798 in 2012, 409,253 in 2013, 425,684 in 2014 and 1, 55, 743 till May in 2015. Migrants went to 160 countries for jobs.
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), although 2 million (20 lakh) people fill the jobseeker’s registration form, it is not possible to send all of them for overseas employment.
The biggest labour markets for Bangladesh remains Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, but only 10,000 people were sent to Malaysia in the last three years.
Since the reopening of the labour market in Saudi Arabia in February this year, only 3,000 women have registered with the BMET for jobs in there against the demand for 40,000 workers.
BMET sources said the government will arrange job fairs in 64 districts from May 24 to May 30 to meet Saudi demands.
The sources said the numbers of overseas employers have increased in Qatar than before but the figures have fallen in Kuwait, Singapore and Thailand.
It is mentionable that Libya recently halted the recruitment of workers from Bangladesh recently due to human trafficking.
State Minister for Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan said “we are very serious about preventing human trafficking through waterways. At present, BGB and coast guard remain more alert than ever before in border or coastal areas.”
The junior minister said a process was underway to identify human traffickers. Meanwhile, many of them have been recognised and some arrested.
Although in late may Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand agreed to and actually accepted thouands of floating migrants on their shores at the call of the United Nations, they have made it a condition that the rescured people should be repatriate to their home countries within a year.
In the face of the global outcry Myanmar the main place of origin of the Asian boat people criris have also rescured several thousand of them, but claimed that they are Bangladeshis. Myanmar has recent years unleashed world’s worst persecution of the Rohingya Muslims denying them citizenship rights and irrationally calling the millennia-old Muslim settlements in Arakan dating back to the sixth century as illegal settlers from Bangladesh which was created only in 1971.
The world attention focussed on the Rohingya Muslims in the wake of the latest migrant boat crisis would hopefully melt the ice in Myanmar, or else the world body may find some ways to allow the Rohingyas manage their own house autonomously or under UN peacekeeping operations. The best options however remain for Burma to own and settle the conflict itself giving the Rohungyas the human rights to live in peace in their place of origin- News Desk