By Nabeel Rajab
Section 1: The Situation
There are approximately 74,000 Bangladeshi workers in Bahrain, including up to 4,000 women. These workers represent 10 per cent of the total population of residents in Bahrain.
Within the region, Bangladeshi workers are mainly employed in unskilled work, such as construction work, menial and manual labor, and tend to work for the lowest wages out of migrant workers from Asia. They can be seen working in ‘3-D’ jobs ,dangerous, dirty or demeaning.
What are the problems faced?
A large number of Bangladeshi workers in Bahrain are classified as ‘undocumented or illegal workers. This comes as a result of holding expired work permits, or being ‘runaway and workers who are employed in work other than that listed on their work permit.
The position of undocumented workers is a vulnerable one. They are vulnerable to maltreatment, abuse, and blackmail. They are also unable to access aid and protection from government authorities, health service providers, and the judicial system.
Mainly because they are desperate to secure employment abroad, many Bangladeshi workers carry false identification documents, including passports.
These are usually made in the country of origin by the recruitment agents. Workers in Bahrain found carrying false documents are normally deported.
Other Bangladeshi workers do not have work contracts, and some have created false contracts and destroy the one sign in the Embassy. Again, this can be seen as a result of desperation to gain and keep their jobs.
In legal disputes, court verdicts have been shown to pass tougher sentences for poor migrant workers, as compared with locals.
In addition, many Bangladeshis have been trafficked to the country (and the region) on false promises of good jobs with higher salaries. A large number have sold property or other valuables in their home country in order to pay for their travel to the region.
The issues faced by migrant workers are largely ignored by civil society both in sending and receiving countries. Because Bangladeshi workers generally cannot speak the language of the host country they work in, they cannot seek help from the police or other government authorities and institutions in the receiving country.
Because they are poor migrant workers whose their main concern is to keep their job and continue to send money to their family at home, their plight is largely ignored by officials.
Section Two: Violations
- Working conditions, including wages, living conditions, and health and safety regulations often fall far below International standards.
- Psychological, physical, verbal abuse, and inhumane living and work conditions have led migrant workers in the past to run away – or commit suicide.
- In some cases, undocumented or runaway female domestic workers end up working, or being forced into working as prostitutes. Often, in these cases, an agent from their home country coerces them into runaway from their sponsors and working as prostitutes.
- The majority of workers are not aware of their rights.
- Asian country Embassies in receiving countries are more concerned about the flow of remittances into their home economies, than the human rights of their citizens.
- Many Recruiting agents, both in home and receiving countries, are key violators of migrant workers’ human rights.
Section Three: Recommendations
1. Bangladeshi embassies based in the region have to take tougher measures in addressing the problem of their own citizens when dealing with host governments. They should keep in mind the host countries’ continuing need for a labour force due to the economic and construction boom.
2. The Bangladeshi government and other Asian ‘sending’ countries should join together for negotiations with receiving countries in the Gulf and wider Middle East region.
3. Bangladesh should develop a system to bring individuals, recruitment agencies and government employees in Bangladesh and who are responsible for human rights volitions to justice, and black list those acting in receiving countries.
4. Workers should be educated and encouraged to join labour unions and civil society groups in receiving countries.
5. Receiving countries should have shelters and safe houses for abused workers. These should be run by sending country embassies if the receiving country government has not established its own.
6. Workers should be guaranteed their right not to be deported with prior review of their cases by an independent judiciary in order to ensure that their right to fair and due process is respected.
7. The contribution of migrant workers to the economy of receiving and sending countries should be recognized
8. Countries should publish and implement national action plans and policies to protect the labour and human rights of all workers, including migrant workers, without discrimination.
9. Activists and social workers should facilitate the establishment of an inter-regional network between Arab and Asian organizations interested in the issues related to the situation of migrant workers. The network should work through regular meetings and exchange of information. This work should include:
- Campaigning for concluding bilateral agreements between origin and host countries on the regulation of migration.
- Formulating contracts which are ratified by ministry of labor in both sending and receiving countries.
10. A maximum number of working hours for domestic workers should be set and implemented.
11. Civil society groups in both sending and receiving countries should work together.
12. Concerned individual activists and organization should fight against the impunity of the middle agents, particularly regarding the exploitation rings run by recruiting agencies in Bangladesh.
13. We should work to raise awareness among migrant workers about legal protection through information campaigns by NGOs, National Human rights institutions, Embassies and trade unions.
Nabeel Rajab, is vice president of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, and his paper was presented to the “Enhancing social protection of Bangladeshi migrants”, a workshop organized by World Bank and international organization for migrations, held in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Nov, 15, 2007.