The unbelievably high number of deaths of our female migrant workers in Saudi Arabia begs the very basic question: why are we still sending our women workers to the country where their basic human rights are not ensured? According to the Brac Migration Programme, between 2016 and June this year, dead bodies of 311 women workers were sent to Bangladesh from the Gulf countries, mostly from Saudi Arabia. And 119 dead bodies of women workers have arrived home this year alone. Also, over the past few years, thousands of our female workers returned home after being subjected to physical torture and sexual harassment by their Saudi employers. More than 900 female migrant workers returned from the Middle East till October this year, most of them from Saudi Arabia.
It is most unfortunate to note the silent role of our Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry while our workers have been languishing in pain in a foreign land. Our embassy in Saudi Arabia also could not play the desired role in safeguarding the interests of the female migrant workers. It did not take any action against recruiting agencies for sending female workers without ensuring their safety and salary.
Reportedly, hundreds of recruiting agencies are working in Bangladesh to send women migrant workers to Saudi Arabia. These agencies do not follow any rules and regulations set by the government and send mostly unskilled women workers from remote areas to Saudi Arabia. When these women face torture and abuse at the hands of their employers, they do not find any way to seek redress or report to any agency concerned because of the obnoxious “kafala” system—their passports are taken away by their employers.
Under the circumstances, the government should stop sending our female workers to the country as domestic help. It should also take action against the recruiting agencies involved in this “slave trade”. Moreover, we would like our government to take a strong stance on the issue in bilateral meetings. We have learnt that a joint technical group of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia will discuss the issues at a meeting on November 26. We hope that in the meeting Bangladesh will make its position clear that it will not tolerate any more rights abuse of its workers in Saudi Arabia.