Half the dead bodies of deceased female migrant workers abroad are never repatriated

Afrin Soriyat

A large number of female workers migrate every year to various countries including the Middle East. Some of them die there. However bodies of approximately half of the deceased workers couldn’t bring back to the country. They are being buried abroad. According to Government Wage Earners’ Welfare Board statistics’, between five years from 2018 to 2022 the 521 expatriate workers died abroad. Among them, it has been possible to bring only 270 bodies back while the rest 251 bodies were buried in the overseas country.

Migrant women workers have made a significant contribution in the remittances of the country. Many of them feel sick while working in the new environment. Some of them become victims of accidents also. These lead many of the migrant workers to death. It is allegedly reported that many workers in the middle-east countries have died being victim of various types of suppression and oppression including suicidal incidents. Almost half of these bodies are being buried in the overseas countries.

Immigration concerned say, the family members even don’t want to bring the dead bodies back in various cases due to administrative complexities and costs. Employers also don’t want to bear the responsibility of sending dead body of the workers to the home country to avoid costs and complexities. Besides, sometimes for non-cooperation of the Bangladesh embassy in the countries having documents trouble, the dead boy remain unreturned.

Sabina from Savar area expatriated to Saudi Arabia to find a job in March 2022. She died in July this year after an alleged serious torture by her employer. Her body could not be brought back to home. Finally she was buried in Saudi Arabia.

An initiative was taken by Bangladesh Ovibashi Mohila Sramik Association (BOMSA) to bring back Sabina's body. His family also tried for some time. But, facing difficulties and sufferings they stopped trying to return Sabina's body to home at one stage.

BOMSA officials complain, Due to various reasons like administrative complexities, documents shortage, non-cooperation of Bangladeshi embassies in the respective countries, it’s not being possible to return a large number of the dead body of migrant female workers home. Specially, facing various administrative difficulties, the family or relatives of the deceased lose the interest to bring back the body.

Prabir Kumar Biswas, Deputy Director of BOMSA told The Bonik Barta, "It is not possible to bring the bodies of at least half of the women workers who die abroad. Many families ask for the body to be buried abroad to avoid administrative complexities. Sometimes the dead bodies of many people cannot be brought because of the documents shortage. For example, migrant women workers in Saudi Arabia receive Akama for two years. After two years they did not have tenure but remained there for financial constraints. Then it is not possible to send their dead bodies to the country as they are undocumented. Many times the employing organization does doesn’t agree to bear the cost of bringing the body from abroad. In some cases the local Bengalis collectively bear the cost of the corpse which is not possible always. Because of these reasons, it is not being possible to bring half the corpses to home.

He said, 'The cause of death can be understood to some extent by looking at the dead bodies those arrived home. We have urged the government to bring the bodies back to the country for re-mortem. But those steps are not taken.

Middle East countries are the largest destination for migrant women workers in the country. Most of them expatriate to Saudi Arabia. About 44.18 percent of the total female migrants choose this country. Among others, 11.76 percent migrate to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 10.22 percent goes to Oman, 16.69 percent choose Jordan and 3.32 percent choose Qatar. Besides, some women workers are going to Bahrain, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius and Hong Kong.

C.R. Abrar, executive director of the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit (RMMRU) recommends that it is urgent for the government to take steps to bring back the corpses of women workers to home quickly.

He said The Bonik Barta, 'The issue of dead bodies of almost half of the women workers not returning to the country is a big incident. The cremation of the dead is connected with our emotions. This is their last chapter on earth. If their families don't get to see their loved ones for the last time, it remains a lifelong trauma. It is government's responsibility to solve this problem. Attempts should be made very soon regarding this.

Suicide caused about one-fifth of women workers’ death. Among the 521 deaths in the last five years, 110 were suicides. Accordingly, suicide was the cause of death of 21 percent of women workers who died abroad. One of them committed suicide in 2018. This number stood at 22 in the following year. The number jumped to 24 in 2020, 26 in 2021 and 37 in 2022. The rest are died of illness, accidents or other causes.

Officials of the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment and the Wage Earners Welfare Board admitted the complexities and lengthy procedure behind bringing back the bodies of women workers who died abroad. An official of the Wage Earners Welfare Board told The Bonik Barta, "Several complications arise after the death of a migrant worker. If the worker dies at work, the employer has to take his responsibility. Due to lack of proper documents, expiry of Akama many times complications arise in bringing dead bodies. If anyone stays in the hospital for a long time, the cost of the hospital increases. The employer doesn’t want to bear the cost. Because of these challenges, many dead bodies have to be buried locally. Many families don't want to get into administrative complications. That’s why they want to bury the body there.

Mentioning the human resources’ crisis of the ministry and embassy he said, `It is also playing a vital role here. Many things can't be done even if you want to. Embassies are understaffed. It is challenging to manage the administrative activities of so many people with so little human resources. It will be difficult to solve these problems without appointment of required number of human resources.

When asked, wishing anonymity a senior official of the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment said, "The matter shouldn’t be generalized. Every country has a different perspective. Our people also have different realities. The body is not brought back for all these things. Many times relatives do not want to bring back. There are some local issues, economic issues and no contact with relatives after going abroad. They do not want to bring back the body of the dead workers after death due to various reasons including these. Matters are looked into by the Wage Earners Welfare Board. The ministry will take initiatives to reduce the complications regarding this.

Translated By Mehedi Mamun

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