In Bangladesh, migrant workers’ dreams end in body bags

newsimageBangladesh received 33,000 bodies of migrant workers since 2005; workload, poor living conditions, heart disease blamed for deaths. The hard-earned money sent home by millions of migrant workers is one of the biggest sources of foreign currency for Bangladesh. Expatriate workers remitted around $14.93 billion last year. As hundreds of thousands leave the country every year to try their luck, thousands also return, albeit in coffins and body bags. Bodies of 33,112 migrant workers have been received between 2005 and November this year, government figures show. But the number of deaths is believed to be higher as many workers are buried abroad. A large number of these deaths are attributed to heart attacks and stroke. Many of the victims are young. As many as 11.39 million Bangladeshis have migrated between 1976 and 2017, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET). Dhaka University’s international Relations Professor CR Abrar pointed out that everyone had to take extensive medical tests before they were permitted to work abroad. “This issue cannot be taken lightly,” he said. “We need to investigate and uncover the reasons why they are dying while working abroad even though they were medically fit before leaving the country.” Brac’s Migration Head Shariful Islam Hasan claimed that adverse working environment, excessive workload, poor living conditions, heart attack and stroke caused by mental stress were behind 94% of the migrant deaths. Some others are killed in accidents, commit suicide or are murdered, he added citing data he gathered when working as a reporter. Before going abroad, a person needs to undergo many medical tests to determine whether he or she is suffering from a list of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Gulf Approved Medical Centers Association said an aspirant migrant worker needs to be tested for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, HCV, malaria, tuberculosis, congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, psychiatric diseases, neurological disorders and physical disabilities, among others. In the first 11 months of this year, 3,154 bodies of migrant workers were received, according to Wage Earners Welfare Board (WEWB) of Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment. Shariful claimed that at least eight to 10 bodies were sent to Bangladesh daily. Many workers have been buried abroad after their deaths. One of the unfortunate victims was twenty-six-year-old Delwar Hossain, who went to Malaysia in 2013 to work at a palm oil farm. His employer claimed that he had died of a heart attack on January 29 this year. The pictures provided by Delwar’s employer showed his body lying under the bed. His family members alleged that he had been murdered. “He had some problems with a coworker. The foreman had beaten him several times after refusing to work extra hours. They did not let him eat or sleep properly,” his younger brother Abul Kalam Azad told the Dhaka Tribune. Shafiqul said the government provided Tk35,000 to families of each dead worker when they receive the body in Dhaka. If the worker was legal, the family gets another Tk3 lakh. WEWB Assistant Director (Information and Public Relations) Zahid Anwar said that if family members of a deceased expatriate express doubt about the cause of death and apply for re-autopsy, the board forwards their plea to the concerned Bangladeshi embassy. He, however, did not clarify if Bangladesh accepts, without contest, the cause of death as stated by the employer or what it does if the family’s claim contradicts that of the stated cause. Shafiqul also did not say anything about how the government ascertains the cause of death of migrant workers in cases such as that of Delwar.