Malaysia is one of Asia's biggest employers of foreign labour. But recently, cases of deaths, abuse and forced labour have come to light. What is going on? Who is protecting these migrant workers?
Shaikh Azizur Rahman
KOLKATA— Malaysia has reportedly agreed to recruit 500,000 low-skilled migrant workers from Bangladesh, a move welcomed by many in a country from where scores of people have risked their lives to go abroad in search of work.
Details of the agreement, called a Business-to-Business (B2B) mechanism that will use employment agencies, were discussed in Malaysia earlier this month, following meetings between officials from both countries.
Kazi Abdul Kalam, joint secretary of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, said a Memorandum of Understanding would be signed between the two countries soon.
“Both countries have already reached an agreement to start a new phase of export of labor from Bangladesh to Malaysia. We hope that after Eid ul Fitr the representatives from Malaysia will land in Bangladesh to sign the MoU,” Kalam said to VOA.
As Gulf labor markets shrink, Malaysia opens
In remarks quoted in Malaysian media, Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said there is an increasing demand for foreign workers, especially in the farming, construction and service industries.
Media reports in Bangladesh and Malaysia have reported that during the next three years as many as 1.5 million workers from Bangladesh could be included in the deal.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Singapore and Malaysia have long been the destination from Bangladeshi migrant laborers. But for different reasons, most of these countries began reducing the number of workers from Bangladesh in recent years.
According to a government figure, in 2008, more than 870,000 Bangladeshis worked abroad, most of them in the Gulf countries. But in 2014, the figure dropped to about 425,000.
After a six year hiatus, Malaysia resumed hiring laborers from Bangladesh through a Government-to Government channel in 2013, but businesses complained the process has been very slow.
In 2013 more than 1.4 million Bangladeshi jobseekers enrolled themselves in the program to work in Malaysia. But during the past two years only about 7,000 actually made it through the process and into jobs.
Many in Bangladesh are hopeful the new agreement will result in quicker recruitments.
“This time the B2B process will operate through the private recruiting agencies between the two countries. I believe, under this new process some thousands of job-seekers will be able to board flights for Malaysia every month,” said Chittagong-based Nurul Islam, who got his name enlisted among the Malaysia job hopefuls in 2013.
Deal could reduce human smuggler market
Under the B2B scheme the workers who registered under the government program two years ago will be among the ones chosen for the new program.
Iftekhar Zaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said signals the Malaysian market is reopening for Bangladeshi workers come as a relief because the slow pace of the government’s attempts to strike a deal for migrant labor resulted in many people turning to illegal labor brokers.
“That failure was also largely responsible for the phenomenal growth of illicit human trafficking including tragedies on the sea,” Zaman said.
Human smugglers in recent years have ferried thousands of Bangladeshi migrants, as well as ethnic Rohingya fleeing poverty and persecution in neighboring Myanmar, to jobs in Malaysia. But many migrants lost their lives during the perilous journey or were abused or held for ransom by the smugglers.
Hassan Ahmed Chowdhury, a Dhaka-based analyst on migrant labor issues, said the planned B2B deal between Bangladesh and Malaysia holds potential to cut the number of people boarding the illegal human trafficking boats from Bangladesh.
“More than half of the people taking the illegal boats from Bangladesh with dream to reach Malaysia are Bangladeshis. Since they saw no hope to land in Malaysia through the dead-slow G2G channel, they have been taking the risks to get on to the risky boat rides. In their air aim to reach their destination many got killed in the sea or on the land or landed in jails in the foreign lands,” Chowdhury told VOA.
Chowdhury said that if the deal is finalized in the next month or two, it could make a significant dent in the number of Bangladeshi migrants who turn to the human smugglers when sailing season resumes in October.
Source: Voice of America
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