DHAKA, Bangladesh 

Bangladesh faces a double whammy due to shrinking global labor market amid the coronavirus pandemic, posing a threat to foreign remittances and at the same time overcrowding the local labor market.

With the emergence of the novel coronavirus, the South Asian country started experiencing a sharp fall in remittance inflow and a considerable number of Bangladeshi expat workers have returned home after layoffs.

Abir Moral, a construction employee in Saudi Arabia who returned to Bangladesh in March on leave, said: “I am dependent on some of my relatives for livelihood since I got stranded in Bangladesh due to the lockdown worldwide.”

However, he said his employer assured him that he can resume his job after the situation comes to normal.

Saudi Arabia is the largest source of foreign remittance to Bangladesh and 70% of the total remittance comes from Middle East countries.

Osman Gani, a small businessman in Malaysia who also returned to Bangladesh, told Anadolu Agency: “I was a vegetable shop owner in Malaysia and it was the only source of my income. I am having miserable time here in Bangladesh like many other returnees.”

Md Shariful Hasan, Migration Program head at BRAC, an international development organization, told Anadolu Agency that “about 2 to 3 million freshers come to the local job market every year and 700,000 to 800,000 of them go abroad as laborers.”

“Every month, about 50,000 job seekers would move for global labor market, which has come to a halt due to the coronavirus over the last three to four months, and some 200,000 workers could not go to their work destinations despite having legal work permits and papers,” Hasan said.

Global labor market shrinks

About 10 million Bangladeshi migrant workers are working in global labour market and many of them have been facing challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to media reports.

Between Feb. 18 and March 18, about 200,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers returned to the country.

Nearly 10,000 Bangladeshis have lost their jobs in Bahrain, local media reported on May 14.

Moreover, some 29,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers are expected to return in the coming weeks from Middle East countries, according to the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry.

Giorgi Gigauri, the UN Migration Agency’s chief of mission in Bangladesh, told Anadolu Agency “It [COVID-19] has already affected the local labour market and hit the local economy, apart from affecting both the migrant sending and migrant receiving countries.

A World Bank projection said that remittance inflow to Bangladesh may drop by 22% in 2020 due to the pandemic, while the remittance inflow fell in March to 12% year-on-year to $1.28 billion — the lowest in 15 months.

According to Bangladesh Bank, the country earned $18.32 billion in remittances in the last fiscal year.

Supportive mechanism for migrant workers

This is a very complex economic and public health situation, said Gigauri, adding there are three stages to address the situation.

The first stage is to provide humanitarian and medical assistance to migrants before they return to Bangladesh, he said, adding they should be tested for COVID-19 before their return. 

The second stage, the UN agency official said, is to provide an immediate assistance upon their arrival as some of the returnees would not even have money to travel back to their villages.

The third stage includes social reintegration and social recovery assistance, he added.

Nasreen Jahan, joint secretary at the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, told Anadolu Agency: “2,000 crore takas ($23 million) have been allocated for soft loans so that returnees could start small business and get involved in entrepreneurship.”

She said there are 70 training centers in the country to enhance skills of the human resource, while some 40 centers are under construction and 60 more are in pipeline, Jahan added.

Highlighting downward trend in oil prices, Hasan suggested besides the Middle East, the country should also focus on European countries in order to explore new markets for workers, as post-coronavirus era could bring new opportunities, including that in the agriculture and medical sectors.

The UN Migration Agency has urged countries to suspend forced returns during the pandemic, in order to protect the health of migrants and communities, and to uphold human rights of all migrants.

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