Migrant Workers: The Never-ending Tragedy

January 13, 2009
Sanjib Kumar Roy, Reuters

One of the survivors of the Andaman tragedy being helped by an Indian coastguard. (Photo: Sanjib Kumar Roy, Reuters)

Throughout 2008 we received reports about how poor men and women were swindled by recruiting agents in Bangladesh and left stranded in hostile foreign country environments. We saw employers in host countries, taking advantage of migrants’ ‘undocumented’ status to abuse their rights and cheat them of payment. When abused workers tried to protest, it led to ‘bad press’ for ‘Bangladeshi workers’ as a category, and many were sent back en masse. Some governments threatened to stop recruiting Bangladeshi workers altogether, leading to weak and ineffective diplomatic overtures from our side. While the latest press headline reports overseas remittances hitting a new high, the year 2008 ended with another tragedy. 300 Bangladeshi men headed for Malaysia drowned in the sea near the Andaman Islands.

Hana Shams Ahmed

[STAR magazine, 09 January, 2009]

According to press reports from Reuters, 412 men, mostly of Bangladeshi nationality, were promised jobs in Malaysia by unidentified recruiting agents. On 14 November these men, aged between 18 and 60, set sail on six motorised vehicles. At some point during their journey, the men changed vessels, according to an Indian coast guard statement. One survivor, identified as Mohammad Ismail Arafat, said he and others had paid a Bangladeshi agent for jobs in Malaysia. The boats they were travelling in did not have enough food in them and seven of the men died from starvation. After drifting around aimlessly for days, they finally spotted a lighthouse somewhere along the Andaman Islands. Hoping they would be able to swim ashore, the men jumped into the sea. Indian coast guard officials said a group of men were rescued from a small boat near Little Andaman Island, from the water. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands lie about 1,200km (750 miles) east of the Indian mainland. Coastguards finally rescued a total of 112 men. The remaining 300 men drowned at sea.

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Sweatshop Tales

September 22, 2008

[STAR Magazine Special Feature, August 29, 2008]

Modern Kuwait represents all the glamour and opulence of an oil-rich country. Behind the glamour is the toil of the hundreds and thousands of migrant workers. Among them are 240,000 Bangladeshi workers many of whom are underpaid, work 7 days a week and live in appalling conditions defying all international labour laws. Too scared to complain to the authorities because their passports are held hostage by their employers, placed into shady work situations by a Bangladeshi manpower industry that is wildly unregulated and endemically corrupt, on July 28 the Pandora’s Box finally exploded.

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Dreams Interrupted

June 20, 2008

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Nightmare on Foreign Soil

October 12, 2007

A Nightmare on Foreign Soil
by Hana Shams Ahmed
[Daily Star, Oct 12, 2007]

Joynal Abedin, Al Amin and the others who refused to leave ZIA until they got back all the payments they made to the recruiting agents.

A group of young men boarded the Biman Bangladesh flight to Malaysia hoping for a better life for themselves and their loved ones. They were promised high-paying jobs and were happy to sell off the last piece of asset they owned to realise their dream job. Within a few months they boarded another flight back to Bangladesh. Cheated by their recruiting agency, traumatised by the maltreatment from outsourcing agents, empty-handed and humiliated now they do not know how they are going to go back to their villages and face their families.

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