Protecting migrants before departure

December 19, 2013 by

Women in a migration forum learn about services that will help them avoid exploitation

Women in a migration forum learn about services that will help them avoid exploitation

There are 232 million people living outside their country of origin, and Samina Begum from Bangladesh was almost one of them. There is an estimated 8 million Bangladeshis working abroad, sending back remittances of around 12bn USD. This year alone, another 1.4 million – almost 1 percent of the country’s population – joined them.

For a few months of her life, Samina thought she would be part of that statistic. She prepared to leave her young son with her parents for a job in Lebanon. The 18-year-old young woman wanted a fresh start, but the plan to become a migrant worker was actually decided by her father, much like most of the important decisions of her life.

Faruque Islam thought that marrying off his daughter Samina at the age of 14 was her best option in life. She would have someone to provide for her and together they would be able to leave their village and build a life in the capital of Dhaka. The couple were working as garment workers when Samina fell pregnant with her son. She then fell out with her husband, and he abandoned his young family.

Samina continued to work in the garments industry but Faruque began to have other ideas to support his daughter’s future. He had heard of a local middleman, Munir Akter, who sent people abroad for a living and whose own wife worked in Lebanon. Munir promised Faruque he could do the same for Samina and she would have a job in Lebanon that paid her 15,000 BDT (187 USD) a month – three times a salary she could find in the city. All Faruque had to do was pay Munir 70,000 BDT (875 USD) for her visa and travel, and when applying for Samina’s passport, they would have to lie and say she was older than 18.

Samina’s parents took out loans from local money-lenders and handed over 35,000 BDT. After three months of waiting, Munir gave Samina a visa and requested the remainder of his money. Faruque asked him to send Samina first and Munir then recommended the father speak with his colleague Sumon in Dhaka. The family made the journey to the capital only to be stood up outside an office day after a day. Realising that this might have been a scam, they returned to the village more desperate to get the money back from Munir. The middleman was gone.

Faruque brought his troubles to local leaders for help and they directed him to the local BRAC migration forum, where people would meet to learn about and discuss safe migration. There his fears were confirmed – his daughter’s visa was a fake. With the help of the forum’s president, Faruque placed a written complaint with the local police. The forum’s president then approached the sub-district authorities and they were able to track down Munir in the area and take back the money he had conned out of Faruque.

Relieved to have his money back, Faruque did not expect what would come with it. Local leaders scolded him for putting his daughter through so many ordeals, from her child marriage to planning her new life in an unknown country while she was still a teenage young mother.

To this day, Samina continues to work in a garments factory in Dhaka and is raising her son alone. The thought of going abroad has been ruined.

This story is an important one because today is International Migrants’ Day, and for migrants’ rights to be protected and ensured while working they have to be first supported and protected before their departure. Samina and her family are not the first to fall victim to a fraudulent offer of employment abroad. BRAC’s migration programme, which began in Bangladesh in 2006, works to ensure the rights of migrants, before and after travel, by creating easy access to services that help them avoid exploitation. The limited access to information, inadequate services from agencies at all levels and the lack of proactive policy-making are still issues to be tackled so that people do not leave their families worse off for having the dream to work abroad.

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Soraya Auer is a media relations specialist for BRAC in Dhaka, Bangladesh.