Reintegration neglected

Returnee migrants get no good news; priory on remittance boost
Migrant worker Shahidul Islam, 38, returned home in January this year after injuring his right leg in a workplace accident while employed as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh.

Father-of-three Shahidul, who had been earning up to Tk 30,000 a month in Riyadh, had to give up his job. He found himself unemployed back at home in Munshiganj, still recovering from his injury.

“After coming home, I tried to work as an auto-rickshaw driver but could not continue it because such work triggered pain in my fractured leg,” he told this newspaper over the phone yesterday.

Shahidul has been in distress as he is bearing the double burden of providing for his poor family and bearing treatment costs.

Like him, many returnee migrants who came home amid the pandemic have been facing financial hardships after returning empty-handed.

However, the proposed national budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022, which was placed in Parliament yesterday, did not bring any good news for the returnees’ reintegration. Instead, it prioritised incentives to boost remittance.

In his budget speech, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal proposed to continue the cash incentive against inward remittance at the rate of two percent in the next fiscal year.

“In addition, special package programmes will be initiated by concerned banks to increase the flow of remittance through banking channels,” the minister said.

The two percent incentive was declared in the budget in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Grassroots migrant rights organisation Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (Okup) had been demanding that the government allocate 10 percent of the total remittance sent by migrant workers annually for their “development, protection and welfare” in the 2021-22 national budget.

Talking with The Daily Star, Okup Chairperson Shakirul Islam yesterday said while the government had allocated incentives for returnee reintegration in the outgoing fiscal year, there has been “nothing more outside this”.

Yet, to make existing reintegration support effective, what is required is setting up “reintegration centres” at each of the district employment and manpower offices across the country, Shakirul said.

“A [returnee] migrant worker does not know how to develop a business plan,” Shakirul said, adding that the type of services, projects or programmes that are required to transform such worker’s business plans into reality have so far been absent in the country.

He added the reintegration centres can provide returnee migrants with counselling based on what they have achieved abroad, be it specialised skills or the amount of savings s/he has to invest.

According to Probashi Kalyan Desk, set up at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport by the expatriates’ welfare ministry, around 4.43 lakh migrant workers returned home between April 1, 2020 and June 2 this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In the outgoing fiscal year, the government had announced a budget allocation of Tk 500 crore and the expatriates’ welfare ministry announced a separate Tk 200 crore for returnee reintegration through loan disbursement.

As of May 31, Tk 215 crore has been disbursed under the combined Tk 700 crore package by the Probashi Kalyan Bank, said a top official of the bank, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to comment.

Remittance sent by migrant workers is considered a key pillar for the country’s economic progress. Last year, migrant workers remitted home around $21.7 billion, as per Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training data.

Prof Tasneem Siddiqui, founding chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, said there should have been a “fitting” budgetary allocation for migrant workers — not only at the expatriates’ welfare ministry but also at other relevant ministries.

Besides, the existing loan support should be rearranged with inclusion of business advisory service training since returnees have so far shown a lack of enthusiasm to take out loans, she added.

Prof Tasneem also said the cash incentive for inward remittance should have been doubled to four percent instead of the current two percent.

Prof Selim Raihan, executive director of South Asian Network on Economic Modeling, said besides continuation of the two percent cash incentive what is required is creating opportunities for better use of remittance.

It would have been highly beneficial if it was possible to create a “link” between remittance and the country’s economic recovery, he said.

Prof Selim, also a teacher of economics at the University of Dhaka, said families of migrant workers are mostly spending remitted money at the family level for their immediate survival.

If fiscal incentives such as a tax exemption were announced for investing remitted money in micro, small, medium enterprises, “we could channel more remittance money into these investments,” he added.

Jamil Mahmud

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