Jahangeer Hossain was heading to his factory along with other Bangladeshi workers in a vehicle around 7:30am in Riyadh on September 2 like every other day.
Soon, a police patrol car blocked their vehicle and detained them. It never occurred to him even in his dreams that he would be then kept at a Deportation Camp in the Saudi Arabian capital for 15 days without any knowledge of the future.
On September 16, Jahangeer was deported to Bangladesh along with other Bangladeshi workers.
“I had a valid Iqama [work permit for foreign nationals] in Saudi Arabia. It’s still valid for three more months. I have no idea why I was arrested and sent back home,” said the man, who is currently at his village home in Jhenaidah.
He told Dhaka Tribune that about 120 to 150 people were kept in each room at the Deportation Camp.
Jahangeer has no idea how he is going to provide for his family now. On top of that, he still has to pay back Tk1 lakh he had taken in loans to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Jahangeer said he could not even ask the Riyadh police why he was being held because he was afraid of getting beaten.
He said an official of the Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia visited the Deportation Camp, but he said he was not authorized to talk to them.
A total of 389 Bangladeshi workers like Jahangeer were sent back home by Saudi Arabia Arabian authorities in the last three days following a crackdown on undocumented workers there.
Of them, 160 arrived in Dhaka on Tuesday night. Most of them complained that they were forced to return despite having valid documents.
What govt says
Government official and experts say the number of migrants is way more than the number of jobs over there, and the recent Saudization policy, officially known as Saudi nationalization scheme or Nitaqat, has led layoffs of Bangladeshi migrant workers.
Rownak Jahan, secretary of the Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, told Dhaka Tribune: “We have asked the Bangladesh Embassy to Saudi Arabia to look into it.
“We will be able to comment after they give us a report on it. Our minister is also visiting Saudi Arabia. He will discuss this issue.”
She said migration does not remain static and recently Saudi Arabia is being very strict about undocumented migrants.
She told Dhaka tribune that more people are migrating to countries like Saudi Arabia for jobs. There are more jobseekers than vacancies, she said and added that sometimes migrants have valid papers but there are no jobs for them.
The Saudization policy of hiring Saudi nationals over migrant workers could be another reason because of which Bangladeshi migrants’ job contracts are not being renewed, the secretary added.
She said every country has its own law and other countries cannot intervene in their internal issues.
13,000 deported in 2019 alone
Shariful Hasan, the head of Brac’s Migration Program, told Dhaka Tribune that at least 13,000 Bangladeshi workers have so far been deported from Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone.
Some recruiting agencies and brokers are luring migrants saying they can go to Saudi Arabia with “free visa,” but there is no such thing, he said.
Shariful said the recruiting agencies and brokers are still sending people abroad without ensuring a secured job because the more they can send, the more money they will make.
As per the law, migrant workers are not allowed to work under any employer they want. They have to work under the employer they signed a contract with. If they leave the job and work under another employer, they will become undocumented.
Shariful recommended solving the problem bilaterally.
“Our embassy should ask the Saudi Arabian government why they are deporting Bangladeshi migrants [even though they had valid documents], and then they can work on the solution based on their response,” he said.
Marina Sultana, program director of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, said many Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia are not being regularized and as a result, they are being deported.
She also pointed finger at Saudization for the layoffs and eventual deportation of the migrant workers.
According to a Saudi Press Agency report, the Saudi authorities have so far arrested around 3.8 million foreigners as it continues the crackdown on labor and residency violations.
The latest figures indicate that 544,521 people have been arrested since early June.