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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 301
December 22, 2012

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Human Rights Advocacy

Endless cry of Bangladeshi migrants

Md.Ashraful Alam & Shelina Akter


As budgets tighten, we are seeing austerity measures that discriminate against migrant workers, xenophobic rhetoric that encourages violence against irregular migrants, and proposed immigration laws that allow the police to profile migrants with impunity. During economic downturns, it is worth remembering that whole sectors of the economy depend on migrant workers and migrant entrepreneurs help to create jobs" Message given by Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, for International Migrants Day, 2012.

18th December has been observed as the International Migrants Day taking into account benefit and dignity of the large number of migrants in the world. Observation of the day goes to 18th December of 1990 when the General Assembly adopted the international convention on the protection of the rights of migrant workers and members of their families by Resolution no- 45/158.

This day is observed in all over the world by almost all countries, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations through the dissemination of information on human rights and fundamental political freedoms of migrants. This year, we observed the day with a slogan “Ain mene jabo bides, Artho ane gorbo shodesh”( we will go in abroad by abiding law and build our homeland with that money). But a crucial question arises how far has Bangladesh being able to protect and respect for the basic human rights of those migrant workers.

All migrant workers have both human rights and some special rights as migrants, and it is the responsibility of hosting and receiving states to ensure some fundamental human rights and basic labor protections specifically linked to their vulnerable status.

There are a number of international legal documents as to the obligation of both hosting and receiving countries to ensure minimum standard of human rights for migrant workers. Such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the ILO Forced Labour Convention, the ILO Equal Remuneration Convention, the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, and the ILO Minimum Age Convention and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families provides that "States Parties undertake ... to respect and to ensure to all migrant workers and ... their families within their territory ... rights ... without distinction of any kind such as sex, race, colour, language, religion..., national, ethnic or social origin, nationality ... or other status.... Migrant workers and members of their families shall be free to leave any State, including their State of origin... No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Article 1 of the ILO Forced Labour Convention provides that "Each Member... undertakes to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms...."

However, there are many forms of abuse and exploitation suffered by Bangladeshi migrant workers in abroad specially in the countries of Middle East. They suffered by a gross violation of human rights. The Human Rights Watch made a field survey to bring out the real vulnerability scenario of migrant worker in the Middle East. Bangladeshi migrant workers are in the worst of position. Their harassment starts from the first initiative to the last destination. They mostly suffered for the lack and loopholes of effective emigration rules by Bangladesh government. Lawyers told Human Rights Watch that courts often issue worker-friendly judgments, but that cases take between six months and a year to resolve and are subject to appeals. Migrant workers are legally unable to work and have no income during this time, and say they typically feel they have little choice but to accept an unfavorable out-of-court settlement. Moreover, they are scarcely entitled to protection by Bangladeshi embassy or Labour ministry. Workers consistently told the Human Rights Watch that unpaid wages topped their list of grievances. Half of the workers interviewed said that their employers withheld their wages for between three to ten months. Nazrul, a Bangladeshi working in construction along with others said they had not been paid for ten months and living miserably.

Most of the Bangladeshi workers allege that low wages, excessive working hours, physical and psychological abuse are common matter for them. Many migrants settle for plane tickets home and return of their passports, forgoing a sizable portion, sometimes all, of their back wages. Some workers said they had even paid former employers to return their passports and cancel their visas, allowing them to leave the country. Some on going emigration policy taken by Bangladesh government is well but not enough to ensure the core enjoyment of basic human rights of migrant worker in abroad. Government should be more active in collaborating with other countries to bring a minimum level of exploitation for Bangladeshi migrant workers.

The writers are Senior Lecturer, Department of Law, Uttara University.


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