DHAKA (THE DAILY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - On June 22, Malaysian authorities announced that they will no longer recruit foreign workers until at least the end of the year, as they have decided to prioritise jobs for locals amid the economic slowdown caused by the global pandemic.
Although Malaysia is home to some eight hundred thousand Bangladeshi migrants, the country stopped recruiting workers from Bangladesh in September 2018 following allegations of a syndicate that used to charge up to Tk 400,000 ($6,567) each for jobs.
Since then, the two governments had been working on measures to make the recruitment system less corrupt and exploitative, and there were hopes that official recruitment would begin again this year. As such, Malaysia's announcement comes as a blow to Bangladesh and its aspirations for future migrant workers.
There has already been an exodus of migrant workers returning to Bangladesh after losing their jobs, especially from the Gulf countries.
The Bangladesh government recently announced their plans for supporting these now-unemployed workers, although the plan to re-skill returning workers and help them find overseas employment again requires reconsideration given Malaysia's latest decision.
However, while we must ensure that our returning workers do not fall into poverty once they return home, we also urge the government to place equal importance on protecting our workers who are still abroad.
According to the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), a global campaign against "wage theft" of migrant workers is underway to stop countries from deporting migrant workers without giving them their dues, and Bangladeshi workers are increasingly vulnerable to this.
Rights groups have also criticised Malaysia's heavy-handed approach to migrants and refugees during the pandemic, where the authorities rounded up and detained thousands in a series of immigration raids despite the heightened risk of Covid-19 transmission in detention facilities.
According to a joint statement by Fortify Rights and the Rohingya Women Development Network (RWDN), Malaysia is continuing these arbitrary arrests and detentions with little concern for the rights of these migrants.
During this period of recovery, the Malaysian government must ensure that migrant workers within their borders are protected, with access to food, accommodation, healthcare and their due wages.
We urge the Bangladesh government to immediately take up the cause of our migrant workers, in Malaysia and other countries, and engage in all levels of diplomacy with the host countries to ensure Bangladeshi workers are not being deprived of their rights.
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