Bangladesh SOCIETY 
Turning Challenges into Opportunities: Supporting returning migrant workers in Bangladesh

NUSHIN SUBHAN/World Bank | 30/01/2024

Courtesy: World Bank

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On a warm summer day in 2022, Abdus Salam, a tea stall owner in Chorlokhha Union, Chattogram, Bangladesh, greeted two young girls accompanied by their father. The girls were playing with the new dolls that their father had gotten from abroad.

As they left, Salam pondered over his own life path, realizing he could barely provide for his family or buy his children toys and gifts. Previously, he had worked as a day laborer in Saudi Arabia for a decade, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, he lost his job and had to return home. Struggling to repay his migration debts of over BDT 300,000, Salam started his small tea stall in Bangladesh to earn a modest income. However, he found himself uncertain about securing a stable future for his family.

Inspired by this encounter, Salam took another chance and registered with the government agency to go to Oman, where he established a tea stall in January 2023. Unfortunately, a month later, he fell seriously ill. Struggling without resources or medical assistance, he returned to Bangladesh in February 2023, unable to earn due to his physical incapacitation. His dream of supporting his family turned into the fear of becoming their burden.

The story of Jewel from Shiloy Union in Munshiganj traces a similar trajectory. He worked as a construction worker in Malaysia for 13 years. A fall from a three-storey building left him with a fractured spine. His employer supported his treatment in Malaysia, but he had to return to Bangladesh in October 2023, paralyzed. Back home with no means to support his family, Jewel faced a worse challenge of being incapable of providing for his family.

One day on her way to the market, Jewel’s wife overheard a Union Parishad member talking to a group of people. She stopped and listened to him say that the Government is providing opportunities to help returnees and their families. A Migrant Workers Welfare Center had opened in the district, where returnees and their families could learn about the Wage Earners Welfare Board (WEWB) and avail services and benefits offered by them.

Over 1.13 million Bangladeshis migrated abroad for employment opportunities in 2022 and the remittance sent back by migrant workers was USD 21.5 billion, equivalent to 4.6% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product But migration from Bangladesh incurs significant costs, and most migrant workers spend their life savings, while others take sizeable loans. Migrants often return before the contracted period - either due to sudden termination, sickness, or, as the country witnessed in early 2020, a global pandemic - and face high debts, little to no savings, social ostracization, humiliation, and depression.

The World Bank-financed Recovery and Advancement of Informal Sector Employment (RAISE) Project has been supporting the Government of Bangladesh provide services that can enhance earning opportunities for low-income urban youth, urban youth impacted by COVID-19, and returning migrants. Under the Project, the WEWB has established Migrant Workers Welfare Centers in 30 districts across the country. These Centers are responsible for identifying and counseling returnee migrants, linking them and their families to appropriate support based on their needs, and providing cash incentives. Counselors at the Centers also help applicants to fill-up the forms required for the services they need, such as medical treatment, psychosocial counseling, and support for their children’s education. Over 69,000 people have already enrolled and thousands more returning migrant workers like Salam and Jewel can now take advantage of the services provided through these Centers.

“We are not alone. I am grateful to the Government for this invaluable support to me and my family. I feel like I am no longer a burden – I can provide.”

After registering at the Center, Salam will now receive a disability allowance ranging from BDT 20,000 to 1,500,000 and Jewel will receive BDT 1,500,000 for his medical treatment. When I visited the Center in October 2023, Salam told me “We are not alone. I am grateful to the Government for this invaluable support to me and my family. I feel like I am no longer a burden – I can provide.”

(This article was first published on World Bank.)

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