Impact of Covid-19 on Bangladeshi migrants -Jahurul Islam Jewel


A new strain of coronavirus, Covid-19, has undoubtedly made the entire world somewhat collapsed in many aspects. Bangladesh is not exception here; the country has also been facing devastating drawbacks for the virus.
World financial institutions’ reports indicate unprecedented fallout to the economy of Bangladesh. Recently the World Bank, in its report on “South Asian Economic Focus Spring 2020: A Cursed Blessing of Public Banks” has forecast the country’s economic growth will be between 2.0 and 3.0 per cent in the current fiscal in the aftermath of coronavirus pandemic. The government though has a GDP growth projection at 8.2 per cent for the fiscal 2019-20. The growth rate will get even worse during fiscal year 2020-2021, dipping as low as 1.9 per cent, the WB predicted. Besides Bangladesh’s trade deficit in the first half of the current 2019-20 fiscal year (July 2019- June 2020) soared by 5.41 per cent to 8.22 billion U.S. dollars. According to the World Bank projection the deficit will reach to 7.7 pc of GDP at the end of the current fiscal.
While Bangladesh’s trade deficit year-on-year has disproportionately been declining, remittances had significantly been soared. Bangladesh received remittance amounting 18.35 billion U.S. dollar in the fiscal 2019 which was $15.54 billion in the previous fiscal. Remittances have covered 84 per cent of the external resources and income deficit in the July-November period of the fiscal year 2019-20.
It can be noted that more than 10 million Bangladeshi migrant workers at present are staying in different countries that remitted $18.35 billion in the year 2019. In the fiscal year 2018-19 the country received $2.58 billion remittance from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) which has long been the largest source of remittances, followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United States of America (USA), Kuwait, Malaysia, the United Kingdom (UK), Oman & Qatar.
The country also got $2.54 billion from the UAE, $1.46 billion from Kuwait, $1.84 billion from the USA, $1.17 billion from the UK, $1.19 b from Malaysia, $1.06 b from Oman & $1.02 b from Qatar during the same period, the Bangladesh Bank data showed.
Unfortunately most of these countries are now witnessing economic slowdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, causing a worry for the wage earners. Bangladeshi migrant workers, for the pandemic, will undoubtedly face many difficulties in various aspects which are already started to visualize.
On April 5, 2020 Foreign Affairs Minister A K Abdul Momen, in a press briefing, informed that many countries had sent letters to the government to send back more than 1.5 lakh migrant workers to the country labelling them as undocumented amid coronavirus pandemic. Monir Hossain, from Rangpur, a district of Bangladesh, went to Kuwait in February 2019 with one year valid visa. For the coronavirus outbreak his owner was forced to shut down his business making Monir jobless.
“I’m totally shocked losing my job. Every month I have to send money back to my parents in Bangladesh. For the last two months I could not send money to my parents, even I’ve been passing my days taking one or two meals a day for not having money,” Hossain said. Bangladeshi migrants who are living in the European and North American countries are also passing a miserable life. Zebin Ahmed, a Bangladeshi migrant who used to work in a food restaurant in White Chapel area, while talking to a BD daily, informed the restaurant she worked for was shut down since the beginning of the spread of the coronavirus in Britain. That’s why her earning source is also stopped. She also informed that undocumented migrants usually work there in daily basis. For the lockdown all were there fallen in a serious crisis.
Approximately one lakh undocumented Bangladeshi migrants living in the UK are uncertain about their livelihood, because of the crisis created by the pandemic. Inside the country, over 1.5 lakh aspirant workers were now stranded after all flights bound to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait remained suspended for two weeks, according to the estimate of the recruiting agencies. Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary-general of BAIRA, said though there was no specific data, the figure would be around 1.5 to 2 lakh who had completed the process for overseas jobs and were now waiting to leave the country. In 2019 Bangladesh sent 700,159 migrants abroad while in 2018 the number was 734,181. In 2019 the highest number of migrant workers was sent to Saudi Arabia which was 399,000 while in 2017 the number was 551,308.
The Gulf State Countries have also been facing severe catastrophes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of migrant workers who used to work in the construction and oil fields are passing a miserable life. Oil prices reduced significantly for both the coronavirus crisis and the dispute between two major oil producing countries, Saudi Arabia and Russia, which mean workers are losing out on wages and will become jobless. In fact, a $1 drop in oil price leads to 0.28 per cent loss in remittance for South Asia. Since oil has already lost $28 a barrel, this would lead to a 7 per cent remittance loss for the first quarter of 2020.
However another concern is that due to the economic impact of the coronavirus there is also possibility that Bangladeshi migrant workers who are now losing their jobs will try to get overseas jobs again and will become prey of human trafficking. Furthermore, the continuous country-wide lockdown has already hit-hard to the RMG, ready-made garments, sectors, the life-line of the country’s economy, which will definitely displace a large number of internal migrant workers, who are involved with this sectors, from their jobs. Under this circumstance the government should take effective initiatives to mitigate migrant workers problems.

The writer is a human rights activist and freelancer.