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     Volume 8 Issue 83 | August 21, 2009 |

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Recognising the Migrant's Struggle

Elita Karim
Tasneem Siddiqui

For a migrant worker, it becomes very difficult to leave his or her country and work in a foreign country. However, it is a choice that a labourer is forced to take. For decades now, migrant workers in thousands have been working in the Middle East, Indonesia, Malaysia and also in the Western World, just so they can support their families back in Bangladesh. The Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), over the last 15 years, has been highlighting the link between migration and development. As a continuation of this initiative, RMMRU decided to acknowledge and appreciate the migrant worker's struggle to survive.

Last week, the Remittance Festival and Shonar Manush Shommanona 2009 organised by RMMRU, was attended by a large number of people including several migrant workers and their families. Held at the Bangladesh China Friendship Centre, renamed as the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre by the current ruling government, this ceremony was held to recognise the efforts of migrant workers making the best utilisation of the remittance sent to Bangladesh in the form of proper investments. Along with migrant workers, awards were also given to recruiting agencies and bankers.

This festival and the award ceremony was organised to highlight the contribution of the remitters and remittance users in the national economy and also to encourage the service providers. Professor Tasneem Siddiqui of RMMRU and also the Convener of the festival's sub-committee, says that she along with her team were thinking of arranging something like this years ago, right at the beginning of 2001. "We were hoping that the government would organise this back then," she says. "But since that was not happening, we started to work on it ourselves." The ceremony, which was the first of its kind ever, was organised to honour the small remitters who send home a major portion of the remittance. "However, these workers and also the service providers usually remain beyond the attention of the authorities," says Dr Siddiqui.

Khandker Mosharraf Hossain the Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment minister attended the ceremony, along with Finance Minister AMA Muhith, the chief guest of the event and Dr Atiur Rahman, the Bangladesh Bank Governor attended the event. They spoke about how the high cost of migration is the root of all problems in the overseas employment sector. A policy being considered by the government to reduce the migration cost is something to be looked forward to, according to them. They stressed on how the migrant workers remain under severe mental pressure yearning for a financial return as they sell their properties to work abroad. Prominent singer Fakir Alamgir performed at the event, his lyrics highlighting the pains and struggles of a migrant worker.

Dr Siddiqui says that the awards were given to those workers who worked hard to give a definite shape to their dreams. The Shonar Manush Shommanona 2009 was awarded to winners in five categories. One of the winners, Abdul Halim Chowdhury, from Daudkandi, Comilla, a migrant worker had started out working as a construction worker in Libya back in 1989. After working there for six years, he returned to his village and started a fishery. Afterwards he went to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and came back with more innovative ideas for his fishery and eventually became the Managing Director of his company, Khoshkandi Fisheries. Thanks to his efforts and dedication, he owns a major business in his hometown today and can offer the best to his family members.

Fakir Alamgir and his group performing at the event.

Similarly, Mohammad Ruhul Amin, yet another winner of the Shonar Manush Shommanona, was the son a poverty stricken family of farmers. As a young student, he moved to Japan and started working as a cook in one of the clubs. He would send a part of his salary to his family though the Sonali Bank in Jinjira, Rahitpur and Motijheel. Eventually, his savings grew and in the year 2000, he bought a piece of land where he built a shopping complex. He also helped his brothers and others in his hometown to migrate to Japan and contribute to the increasing remittance in the country. In the year 2006, he built a hospital in his hometown, which now runs smoothly and successfully.

“We also awarded bankers at the ceremony,” says Tasneem Siddiqui. “We had several fairs and festivals in Chittagong, Mirassorai, Daudkandhi and in other districts as well. Here several Bank Desk Officials from Brac Bank, Sonali Bank and many others would participate regularly.” About fourteen bank desk officials were awarded the Shonar Manush Shommanona 2009. RMMRU had organised several training sessions where these officials worked directly with the migrant workers in the fields. According to Dr Siddqui, this actually made the officers extremely aware of the dire situations faced by migrant workers abroad. “At one point, the bank officials began to emphasise more on the migrant workers' comfort and ease in working out documents and financial transactions rather than holding on to the idea of making profits for themselves,” says Dr Siddiqui. “For instance, if a DPS (Deposit Pension Scheme) is better in Bank A, the official from Bank B would sometimes advise his or her client, a migrant worker, to opt for Bank A instead. Desk officials in a bank play a much more significant role, when it comes to managing the migrant worker's finances rather than a Director or a Managing Director of a bank. That's why we decided to award bank desk officials as well.”

With the help of these bank officials, migrant workers send in their remittance to the country, whereby their families living in the villages are able to survive, but that is not where the responsibility of migrant workers or their families end. Awards were also given to families who made best use of the remittance sent by the migrant works. One of the winners, Suraiya Yasmin today owns a poultry farm in the Kaloha village of Kalihati, which she built over the last decade thanks to money sent by her husband living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Sobhan Molla, who also won an award in Keraniganj, runs a farm with 25 cows, which he built with the help of remittance sent by his sons working in the Middle East. The farm regularly supplies milk in the village. The third winner, Mufazzar Alam's family runs three shops in Potia, Chittagong, along with a pharmacy. His family built these organisations with the help of remittance sent in by Mufazzar's father, working in Saudi Arabia.

One of the challenges that Dr Siddiqui and her team faced was awarding the recruiting agencies. “Since it was our first time organising the awards, we had sent out a declaration stating that any recruiting agency which has an allegation against it will not be able to participate,” admits Dr Siddiqui. “Incidentally, almost all agencies have allegations against them but many of them are also solved legally. We did not realise this and lost out on plenty of good and deserving agencies. We don't plan to make the same mistake again next year!” Ahmed and Company, MCO Trading International (Private) Limited and Greenland Overseas were awarded the Shonar Manush Sheba Shommanona Awards.

Yet another obstacle that RMMRU faced was the financial crisis and lack of funds. “We had all our banks who partnered with us during the event that paid an amount to put up their stalls,” Dr Siddiqui explains. “Plus we fortunately had a Platinum sponsor for the festival, Al Amoudi Exchange Company, a leading exchange house in Saudi Arabia. In spite all this, we still faced a serious financial crisis and I think we will concentrate a little more in this sector before we decide to arrange the festival again next year.”

The Shonar Manush Shommanona 2009 was a first of its kind, which will definitely build a sturdier platform for migrant workers moving abroad to work and also the external organisations, which are involved. However, it is still up to the government to look after the welfare of these labourers who leave Bangladesh for a job, which might not treat them well, but at least, pays them enough to survive. After all, these individuals bring in the remittance to the country and deserve a scope from the government to invest in an uncomplicated and a liberated manner.




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