Bangladeshi Workers in Malaysia: Pandemic puts them in trouble
Abdul Kader Parash lost his income three months ago due to sheer lack of clients at the motor garage he worked for in Kuala Lumpur.
Besides, the workshop has been shuttered since June because of coronavirus restrictions.
"There is nothing to do except whiling away in my room with my roommates. I am worried about my future and that of my two younger brothers and elderly father back home in Bangladesh," he told this correspondent over the phone from Jalan Ipoh area of the Malaysian capital.
About a week ago, his recruitment agent provided some food for him and his four roommates. But the supplies will run out soon. Besides unemployment, he also fears detention by law enforcers cracking down on undocumented workers.
"People from whom I could have borrowed some money are facing similar crises," he said.
"I feel the worst when my brothers call me and asks me if I could send them some money."
Parash, 29, who is from Chauddagram, Cumilla, doesn't have valid documents to stay in Malaysia.
Malaysia, home to an estimated 8 lakh Bangladeshis, saw the Covid-19 infections cross the one-million-mark last week.
In fiscal 2018-19, Bangladesh received $1.19 billion in remittance from Malaysia, which was 7.25 percent of entire amount sent home by migrant workers that year.
Migrant workers and researchers said earning opportunities in most of the factories, restaurants, and construction sites have sharply declined in recent months.
Despite the pandemic, Malaysian law enforcers raided and detained several thousand undocumented foreign workers, including Bangladeshis, creating fear among the undocumented workers already plagued by unemployment.
Parash migrated to Malaysia seven years ago, borrowing Tk 2.5 lakh at a high interest rate. But he is still in debt because the money, about Tk 15,000 a month, he sent home was needed by his family members.
"I had applied for visa through my employer about eight months ago, paying RM 2,000 [over Tk 40,000], but I did not get my visa. My employer died and I applied for a second time. But I still don't have the papers," he said.
Abu Hayat, an independent migration researcher based in Kuala Lumpur, said many migrant workers in Malaysia have been unemployed because of the lockdown. Some employers pay the basic salary or provide food while others don't.
He said he was involved in several food aid programmes of several NGOs during the lockdown last year. But there is hardly any such initiative this year.
"Many Bangladeshi and other foreign migrants are facing serious crises because of the loss of earnings," Hayat said.
However, Jahirul Islam, counsellor (labour) at the Bangladesh High Commission in Malaysia, said not many Bangladeshis have been unemployed.
The employers themselves have been in crisis due to the lockdown and they were asked by the authorities to continue paying the salaries because the government provided them with assistance.
"There may be some cases of workers not being paid. If they report to us, we will take measures," he said.
DELAYED PASSPORTS ADDING TO WOES
Several migrants in Malaysia said it takes about four to five months for the Bangladesh High Commission to deliver a renewed passport while the workers keep facing troubles without a passport.
Monnaf Ali, a construction worker, had applied online through a broker for his renewed passport in February this year as the current validity would expire on July 11. He is still waiting for the passport.
"I have now become irregular without my passport and work permit," said the resident of Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.
Monnaf, who is from Sirajganj, faces risks of arrest and might end up having to pay additional fees to the recruiting agent for the delay.
Migrants said having the passport on time is crucial for those who want to apply for visas under the Malaysian government's labour recalibration initiative. This offered employers a window to legally employ undocumented foreign workers that would close on December 31.
Abdullah Bepul, another migrant from Kuala Lumpur, said, "One cannot even apply for regularisation under this programme without having a passport valid for at least the next 18 months."
Officials from the Bangladesh High Commission said they introduced online application and delivery of passports through the post offices a year ago.
Since the recalibration began, the high commission issued nearly 1.5 lakh passports, he said.
Mokabbir Hossain, secretary at the security services division at the home ministry, said oftentimes the workers don't properly fill out the online application form or depend on the brokers who don't do the jobs right. This causes the delay.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said it should not take more than three weeks to deliver a passport.
"Everything needed should be done to ensure the peoples' right and welfare. I have instructed the passport authorities several times to take steps towards this end," he said.