Bangladesh: Can migration brokers be finally held accountable?

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A large number of aspiring migrants seek the assistance of brokers who they expect will help them travel overseas for work. In many cases, however, such brokers mislead or deceive the migrants, thus pushing them into a far more difficult life than the one they are keen to escape from.

In response to widespread complaints and criticism on the matter, the government finally seems to be moving toward bringing the brokers into a system through giving them legitimacy and at the same time ensuring accountability on their part in their work.

Sources at the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment told the ministry began the process this year following explicit instructions from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the issue.

It may be recalled that on August 25, the prime minister asked the authorities concerned to pay special attention to ensure that expatriate workers were not exploited by middlemen.

When asked, Additional Secretary Dr Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, confirming the matter to, said: “The brokers have remained unaddressed so far. We have begun the paperwork to regulate them. It is only just getting started.”

He said the authorities planned to permit a number of registered middlemen, under a registered recruiting agency, to help the agency get more clients. All financial transactions under this process would have to be conducted through banks.

Before an employee is sent abroad, a ministry official will verify all relevant documents. The process will give officials the authority to identify if any of the brokers or recruiting agency is engaged in any irregularities, the additional secretary said.

Dr Munirus Saleheen stated that the process would be expanded to the Upazila and district levels in order to regularly monitor middlemen and update their details.

Why are middlemen so popular?

According to a report published by NGO Young Power in Social Action, a Chittagong-based NGO, as many as 70% migrant workers depend on middlemen to complete their migration-related activities, with over 50% of aspiring migrants perhaps paying twice as much for their passport and other processing fees.

Shakirul Islam, chairman of the Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program, a migrant rights organization, said most recruitment agencies in Bangladesh are located in cities and lack the manpower to reach out to people who wish to go abroad.

“As these people do not know where to find information, they are dependent on middlemen to reach these agencies and go abroad. Similarly, the agencies, to cover up their inadequacies, also depend on informal networks,” he said.

Possible? Yes. But viable?

The law enforcement agencies have pointed the finger at brokers as being a major factor in human trafficking or irregular migration from Bangladesh.

In March 2017, the Rapid Action Battalion submitted 14 recommendations to the home minister to ensure safe migration, one of which was the need to regulate the activities of migration middlemen.

A senior officer at the Criminal Investigation Department of the police told that it would be a huge task to bring all brokers under a system due to their overwhelming numbers.

He said: “If it can start by tracking all of them instead of bringing them all in, it would be less taxing, but one must also let the brokers know they are under watch. It all depends on the ministry’s approach.”

Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, Secretary-general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA), also referred to the same issue and said similar attempts made three years ago had been of no avail.

He cautioned it would be a daunting task and mentioned that India and Pakistan had tried to implement the model, albeit unsuccessfully.

Shameem, however, praised the initiative and said if it could be accomplished with an effective framework in place, it would not only ensure accountability but also bring discipline into the unchecked sector. ***

BDFreePress/Dhaka Tribune

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