Returning workers from KSA: Action impossible without formal complaints, says minister

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Two female workers returning from Saudi Arabia at the Shahjalal International Airport recently Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

In May, 260 workers returned home, while 188 more came back in June, Shariful said

Although the government’s “inaction” has been blamed for the slow return of female domestic help abused in Saudi Arabia, Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister, Nurul Islam, said action cannot be taken unless victims lodge formal complaints.

The minister also said that based on media reports, ministry officials went to the homes of some abused workers, , but their addresses were found to be incorrect.

“Someone must formally lodge a complaint so that the ministry can take necessary steps,” he added.

Md Shariful Hasan, program head of Brac Migration, said that over 5,000 female workers who worked as domestic help in Saudi Arabia had returned home over the past three years.

He cited non-payment of salaries, as well as physical, mental, and sexual harassment as the reasons behind their return.

In May, 260 workers returned home, while 188 more came back in June, Shariful said.

Although seven workers have reportedly become mentally unstable as a result of the abuse, the government has taken no effective preventive measures, he said.

Criticising “government inaction” in the return of abused female domestic workers from the Middle East, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), recently demanded the government take immediate action to stop such injustices and ensure the accountability of the agencies concerned.

TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said: “The of the Abused workers returning from the Middle East reflects the absence of good governance in the overseas recruitment sector, as well as the inaction of authorities concerned, and the lack of their responsiveness to women’s rights.”

Rupali, 26, who hails from Chandpur’s Matlab upazila, returned home on June 30. She went to Saudi Arabia two years ago, but stopped sending back her wages 10 months into her employment, said her mother Fatima Khatun.

She came back for a vacation after staying there for 14 months, and returned this time mentally unstable, Fatima said. “She now talks incoherently.”

Tania, 21, from Dhaka, told UNB she returned home one month ago as her employer used to abuse her both physically and sexually – hitting her if she did not comply with his wishes.

She added that she had tried to tell her employer’s wife everything, but could not do so out of fear.

Hailing from Sylhet, Rehana, 30, who returned home three months ago, said she was employed at a Saudi home for nine months, but she received wages for the first three months only and nothing afterwards.

She also said they did not let her eat or rest properly. She spent Tk1.5 lakh to go to Saudi Arabia.

Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) Joint Secretary, General Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, said that Bangladesh started sending female workers to Saudi Arabia towards the end of 2015.

There are currently 215,000 female workers in KSA, and 500-600 more workers go there every day, he added.

Refuting the allegations of returning workers, he said: “First of all, female workers are sent to Saudi Arabia free of cost, but they have to sign a bond stating they will not return to Bangladesh in the first two years.”

“Some want to return home without any valid reason and they themselves have to bear the cost of coming back, about Tk2 lakh. In order to return as soon as possible, they raise allegations of abuse and non-payment of wages” he said, adding that the government later pressures the recruiting agencies to bear the cost of return.

The allegations of workers are fabricated, Noman claimed.

Citing sources from the Bangladesh Embassy and Expatriates’ Welfare Ministry, he said the percentage of workers who are abused is 0.03%.

Source: Dhaka Tribune.

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