According to International Migrants Alliance Research Foundation, 834 expatriates, including 32 women workers died in different countries in the first four months of 2009. Saudi Arabia was where Bangladeshi expatriates expired the most: 254 workers. 157 expatriates died in Malaysia, 100 in Dubai, 55 in Kuwait, 34 in Oman, 24 in Abu Dhabi and 21 in Qatar. Cardiac failure is cited as the most common causes of death, which is quite surprising given the young ages of the victims, usually ranging from 30 to 45 years.
According to cardiologists, acute tension caused by uncertainties of income and unhealthy food habits may lead to deaths by heart attacks, while labor rights activists are emphatic that mental tension caused by low income, debts, and lack of medical care abroad lead to such deaths.
On the 1st of July, 2009, the dead bodies of Shahed Ali and Abdul Khalek arrived in Bangladesh from Saudi Arabia. Family members of Shahed Ali say he had job trouble which led to anxiety and insecurity. Motiar Rahman returned dead on July 8. He had 2 sons and 1 daughter. He had gone to Saudi Arabia nine years ago to earn money, and there he had to work in harsh weather conditions without proper protection which eventually led to sickness. The Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) paid no compensation.
Bishu returned dead from America and Shelim from Saudi Arabia. Abdur Rashid had a son and daughter in Dhatalpur village, Sathia, Pabna. He worked in Saudi Arabia for around 17 months. He died in an accident and his body was kept in a cold storage for over a year. BMET usually pays Tk. 20,000 for the transportation of a body and Tk. 2,00,000 as compensation. Rashid’s family filed a complaint with the BMET, but Rashid’s recruiting agency and employer pursued BMET to withdraw that complaint or else it would not deliver Rashid’s dead body. As a result, the helpless family withdrew the complaint, and claimed back his body from the Saudi cold storage. The rent of cold storage for 11 month was Tk. 4 lac., which was then adjusted from his compensation and insurance money.
Such cases involving migrant workers have increased alarmingly during the last couple of years, yet there has been no proper investigation into these deaths. Poor people sell whatever meager assets they have or take loans from relatives to migrate abroad for a better life, not knowing that the hope of a better life often turns out to be a mirage, especially in cases where they poor workers have been cheated by agencies.
A study of ICDDR,B in association with International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed that only 14 percent of male Bangladeshi migrant workers get medical assistance from their employers, although 70 percent of them have health problems. A majority of the migrants are between 28 and 47 years of age and almost half of them suffer from a variety of mental health problems, while about 60 percent experience some kind of workplace injury.
The government should immediately convene a national commission to investigate the 8,107 deaths that occurred in the past five years, while negotiating with the host countries for better healthcare coverage and protection of rights.
This will not only help bring closure to those who have died but will greatly benefit those workers who are still living abroad. Joynal Abedin of Mirpur, Syed Ahmed of Mohammadpur, Asgar Ali of Savar, Sarwar of Manikgonj, Abul Hossain of Nobabgonj, and Shahjahan of Gajipur are some of the migrant workers who returned dead from abroad. There are hundreds of others like them who may be alive now but are surely running out of time.