Route to Mis­ery

If Bangladesh fails to stop il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, it may lose many for­eign la­bor mar­kets.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Ma­lik Muham­mad Ashraf

Il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion cre­ates an em­bar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tion for the Bangladeshi gov­ern­ment when­ever a tragedy in­volv­ing il­le­gal mi­grants oc­curs.

Migration is a very com­plex un­der­tak­ing which has been as­so­ci­ated with hu­man so­ci­eties for cen­turies. The ma­jor causes for migration are poverty, armed con­flict, so­cial strife, po­lit­i­cal tur­moil and eco­nomic hard­ships. How­ever, since the mid-20th cen­tury, the na­ture of migration has also been largely in­flu­enced by glob­al­iza­tion spurred by ad­vances in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­porta­tion tech­nolo­gies, al­low­ing peo­ple to live in a world where dis­tances be­tween coun­tries and travel time are no longer a sig­nif­i­cant ob­sta­cle.

Migration in this chang­ing global en­vi­ron­ment is mostly mo­ti­vated by the de­sire for a bet­ter life; it is called eco­nomic migration. Most of the un­der­de­vel­oped coun­tries, in­clud­ing Bangladesh, rely on remit­tances sent by their ex­pa­tri­ates as a ma­jor source of for­eign ex­change. This plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in chang­ing the eco­nomic pro­file of the coun­try as well as fam­i­lies of the ex­pa­tri­ates. The coun­tries ex­port­ing man­power en­cour­age this migration as a pol­icy while the re­cip­i­ent coun­tries have also for­mu­lated poli­cies to reg­u­late the in­take of mi­grants.

At present, Bangladesh’s an­nual for­eign remit­tances are be­tween US$ 14-15 bil­lion, which is nearly half of its ex­port earn­ings. It is among the top ten coun­tries of the world, af­ter Pak­istan, which re­ceives and de­pends on for­eign remit­tances to nudge eco­nomic growth. At present, there are well over 9 mil­lion Bangladeshi ex­pa­tri­ates in nearly 160 coun­tries. The Bangladesh gov­ern­ment has sent 2.4 mil­lion work­ers abroad be­tween 2008 and 2013. How­ever, there is a down­side to this lure for migration.

It has given birth to the phe­nom­e­non of hu­man traf­fick­ing on a global level. It is es­ti­mated that 40,000 il­le­gal mi­grants hit the shores of the Euro­pean Union coun­tries an­nu­ally and nearly 3 per­cent of them lose their lives in search of a bet­ter fu­ture. Most of the vic­tims were poor peo­ple be­long­ing to un­priv­i­leged sec­tions of un­der­de­vel­oped coun­tries. They were lured by gangs of hu­man traf­fick­ers, through their vast net­work of agents. The mi­grants were il­le­gally traf­ficked to for­eign coun­tries through sea and land routes, some­times with hor­ri­ble con­se­quences.

Ac­cord­ing to a UN re­port, 14,000 Bangladeshi il­le­gal mi­grants crossed the Bay of Ben­gal dur­ing 2012. This has al­most be­come a sea route of mis­ery for il­le­gal mi­grants. The ma­jor­ity of im­mi­grants went to the Far East coun­tries, such as Malaysia, In­done­sia and Australia and some to the Mid­dle East and even Europe through sea routes.

How­ever, at present, the ma­jor con­cern for the gov­ern­ment is the peo­ple il­le­gally go­ing to Malaysia, mostly by sea routes. Quite of­ten th­ese mi­grants are dumped on re­mote is­lands, held cap­tive for ran­som or sold to the Thai and Cam­bo­dian fish­ing in­dus­try and asked to do forced la­bor. Their dream for a bet­ter fu­ture re­mains un­ful­filled. Re­cently, 650 mi­grants aboard a fish­ing trawler were de­tained off the coast of St. Martin’s Is­lands which fu­elled the de­bate on check­ing and dis­cour­ag­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing in Bangladesh. Ac­cord­ing to the UNHCR, more than 7000 peo­ple caught trav­el­ling il­le­gally through sea routes are lodged in var­i­ous detention cen­ters in far eastern and south eastern coun­tries.

Moshar­raf Hos­sain, Bangladesh’s Min­is­ter for Over­seas Em­ploy­ment, says, “We no­tice with deep con­cern that Bangladeshi work­ers are try­ing to go abroad il­le­gally, es­pe­cially to Malaysia through sea routes. Such il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion cre­ates var­i­ous prob­lems for legal Bangladeshi work­ers abroad.” He was right in high­light­ing the con­se­quences of this phe­nom­e­non. Il­le­gal mi­grants force the des­ti­na­tion coun­tries to make im­mi­gra­tion laws more strin­gent and also take re­me­dial mea­sures to off-set so­cial con­se­quences of the prob­lem be­sides deal­ing with the hu­man tragedy. Th­ese mea­sures dis­cour­age legal migration and also cre­ate re­sent­ment among the lo­cal peo­ple against the mi­grant com­mu­nity. This in turn gives rise to a host of so­cial and eco­nomic

is­sues, putting the gov­ern­ments un­der pres­sure to dis­cour­age the in­take of mi­grant work­ers.

The prob­lem of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is so acute and alarm­ing that Bangladesh is on the verge of los­ing the Malaysian la­bor mar­ket. Sim­i­larly, the de­mand for Bangladeshi work­ers in the Mid­dle East is also on the decline. As such, the phe­nom­e­non is ad­versely af­fect­ing the inflow of for­eign remit­tances, which are now one of the ma­jor fac­tors in push­ing for­ward so­cio-eco­nomic devel­op­ment of the coun­try. Il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion also cre­ates an em­bar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tion for the gov­ern­ment when­ever a tragic in­ci­dent in­volv­ing il­le­gal mi­grants oc­curs. The is­sue of il­le­gal hu­man traf­fick­ing is un­der­min­ing the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to send more man­power to af­flu­ent coun­tries to in­crease for­eign remit­tances.

Bangladesh is also hav­ing prob­lems with In­dia with re­gard to il­le­gal migration of Bangladeshi na­tion­als. In­dia claims that il­le­gal migration has changed the de­mo­graphic re­al­i­ties in the north­east­ern states, es­pe­cially As­sam, be­sides caus­ing other prob­lems. It is also feared that the mi­grants could fall prey to ter­ror­ist groups. The In­dian apex court has or­dered the gov­ern­ment to fence the bor­der along Bangladesh to stop the inflow of il­le­gal Bangladeshi mi­grants.

On its part, the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment has in­creased the pa­trolling of the Bay of Ben­gal. Bangladeshi coast­guard has re­port­edly thwarted sev­eral at­tempts of hu­man traf­fick­ers to smug­gle Bangladeshi work­ers abroad through sea lanes. It has also taken mea­sures to sen­si­tize the me­dia and so­ci­ety about the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion. The gov­ern­ment is also seek­ing co­op­er­a­tion from the Bangladesh As­so­ci­a­tion of In­ter­na­tional Re­cruit­ment Agen­cies in iden­ti­fy­ing the il­le­gal op­er­a­tives so that they could be brought to book.

In 2012, the gov­ern­ment pro­mul­gated The Pre­ven­tion and Sup­pres­sion of Hu­man Traf­fick­ing Act which has ex­tra-ter­ri­to­rial ap­pli­ca­tions. It is also en­gaged in re­mov­ing the loop­holes in the ex­ist­ing laws and acts to reg­u­late the move­ment of ves­sels com­ing to and go­ing out of the Bay of Ben­gal. Ef­forts are in the off­ing to seek co­op­er­a­tion of the lit­toral states of the Bay of Ben­gal and the coun­tries which are the usual des­ti­na­tions of th­ese mi­grants to stop il­le­gal hu­man traf­fick­ing. The prob­lem, how­ever, is too com­plex and multi-faceted for any one coun­try to han­dle.

The writer is a free­lance colum­nist.

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