COVID-19 outbreak has placed women migrant workers in the destination countries at higher risks, enduring job crisis, lack of food and safety, health risks, vulnerability to domestic and public gender-based abuse and social stigma. Though the government has taken several initiatives to provide support to the migrants in the destination countries and to bring them back, female migrants, in particular, became more vulnerable as isolation prevented them from reaching out for help while they were being abused and were burdened with overwork. At this critical juncture, when challenges of migrants always faced have intensified and newer difficulties are in the rise, strengthening support services for migrants, in both counties of destination and origin, has become more crucial than ever.
In this context, Bangladesh Nari Sramik Kendra (BNSK) and the Institute of Informatics and Development (IID) have arranged a Webinar on ‘Strengthening Support Service and Promoting Model Consulate for Women Migrant Workers’ to be held on 18 November 2020 from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm via Zoom. The discussion focused on documenting best practices in consular services and building partnerships between the Government, Civil Society Organizations, and International Organizations in ensuring support service for female migrants, ensuring gender-sensitive support services for migrants with building capacity of the government officials, and strengthening support services for female migrants following the Model Consulate approach.
Honorable Member of Parliament Momotaz Begom MP, Honorable Secretary of MoEWOE Dr Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, Bangladesh Ambassador to Jordan Nahida Sohan, Ambassador to Bahrain Dr. M Nazrul Islam, Ambasador-Designate and DG of MoFA Nazrul Islam, Chief of Mission of IOM Bangladesh Giorgi Gigauri, Country Director of ILO Tuomo Poutiainen took part in the discussion, among others.
Speaking as the Special Guest at the event, Momotaz Begom, M.P. emphasized on the reintegration projects of the government for the returnee migrant workers during pandemics. She added that as the returnee migrant workers are already skilled, they can be expatriated again providing some further training. The government is planning to set up more training centers for migrant workers. The Hon’ble Member of Parliament reiterated one of her songs where she tries to spread the message of what things aspirant migrants need to know before going abroad. She stressed that the embassies should regularly monitor the conditions of the female migrant workers.
Dr. Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, Secretary of the MoEWOE (Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment) highly encouraged the concept of strengthening support services and promoting model consulates and willing to provide necessary assistance from the government.
Nahida Sobhan, Ambassador to Jordan, stressed that domestic workers should be trained properly about the general understanding of the culture of the destination countries before their expatriation. She insisted that embassies should have a registration portal to monitor the migrant workers. She also mentioned that Model Consulate should be focused on creating a database of the recruiting agenesis. She urged that if the embassy can recruit someone dedicated to dealing the issues of women migrant workers that would be helpful.
Dr. Md. Nazrul Islam, Ambassador to Bahrain, emphasized on increasing the number of female migrant workers in Bahrain. He also discussed some best practices for the well-being of female migrants from around the world. Moreover, he focused on delivering easy-to-access support services through ICT-based mechanisms to the migrant workers.
Nazrul Islam, DG, MoFA mentioned that women migrant workers face exploitation, racism, discrimination, stigmatization, sexual harassment, negligence by the host government etcetera to a greater extent and Covid has made it even worse. He further mentioned that, without trained officials, a good system for the migrants is not possible. He is also very hopeful about the implementation of the model consulate and assured that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is ready to help.
Giorgi Gigauri, Chief of Mission of IOM Bangladesh emphasized the partnership with the private sector to ensure that the migrant workers are receiving all the assistance they need. Companies and recruitment agencies always want to maximize their profit and therefore make sure that the compliance, reporting, monitoring, and evaluation of all the working conditions and processes are conducted effectively.
Syeed Ahamed, CEO of IID, explained the concept of Model Consulate. To implement the Model Consulate, he identified three focus areas- 1) Budget and resources to improve the consulate service, 2) Building partnership to improve it, 3) Institutionalizing the best practices. Mentioning that the Ministry of Expatriates gets less than 0.02% of the total budget, he highlighted the frugal innovations that Bangladesh is emerging through her limited resources. He stated that these frugal innovations are seen in the service sector too. Sometimes people in the ministry or embassy come up with some ingenious way to reach more people and do something more. Promoting the best practices through proper documentation and institutionalization can influence the support services both in countries of origin and destination. He also emphasized on promoting ICT-driven solutions as the government and several organizations have developed many mobile apps to help the migrant workers but those hardly reached the migrants.
Sumaiya Islam, Executive Director of BNSK discussed the support services that need to strengthen for the women migrant workers. She mentioned the economic contribution of women migrant workers before migrating and while working abroad. With a study of BNSK on the returnee migrants, she highlighted the gaps in support services at the country of origin and countries of destination. The major gaps are the language barrier, insufficient training facilities, lack of knowledge on crisis management of the female migrant workers. She called upon international organizations and development agencies to organize three months-long residential capacity building training for female migrant workers for their personal and skill management. She stressed that one of the biggest challenges is middleman regularization and mobility of the local recruiting agenesis. She proposed to legalize recruiting agencies through laws or policies. A major problem is that the workers do not have any fixed working hours. She recommended that the monitoring system needs to be strengthened. Legal support has to be increased both in the home country and country of destination. Apart from that, health and mental support should also be given to the women migrants.
Zakir and Rijwan, migrant workers in Abu Dhabi and Singapore have complained about rude behavior and insincerity of the embassy staff. They reported that they have to wait long hours to get their work done. According to both Zakir and Rijwan, things would get done quicker if the embassy staff showed a little concern and they want the government to look into the matter.
Nazia Haider, Program Manager, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) appreciated the blueprint of Model Consulate and ensured her support towards the concept. She talked about supporting the Bangladeshi Government by conducting a study on similar kinds of support services provided by other labor-sending countries and developing some protocols or SOPs so that migrants can receive emergency services such as rescue, repatriation, counseling etcetera. To ensure fair labor migration, she encouraged collaborative work between government, civil society and recruiting agencies. She also reminded everyone that female migrants should never be left out in any of the work regarding fair labor migration as they are the most vulnerable.
Tuomo Poutiainen, Country director of ILO Bangladesh mentioned the need for government, labor groups, and civil society in the destination countries to play a better role in serving the interest of migrants. In light of Covid-19, he encouraged the improvement of existing laws and policies and making them more practicable. As women migrant workers are often deprived of proper protection, he talked about ensuring a safe migration cycle through a gender lens. Moreover, more focus should be put on upskilling and creating more work opportunities.
Natasha Ahmed, Human Rights Advocate intensified the process of developing support services for the migrant workers. She proposed to identify the reliable agents and listing them accordingly in both host and destination countries. The accountability of the agents needs to be secured. To ensure sustainable development and well-being of the migrant workers, she called upon International Organizations to create a strong CSO network between sending and receiving countries. She also emphasized integrating social media awareness about proper migration processes and ensuring standard training methods for migrant workers.
Shirin Lira, Sr. IBP Manager and Gender & Social Inclusion Adviser. PROKAS, British Council, moderated the live webinar. Among others, Nazia Haider, Program Manager, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director of ILO Bangladesh, Giorgi Gigauri, Chief of Mission of IOM Bangladesh spoke at the event.
The conference was attended by some 70 participants from different organizations working in the migration sector. It was broadcasted live on social media which brought together thousands of viewers as well.