Bangladesh is the fifth highest labour sending country in the world, but it is also among the top 10 countries from where people migrate across the Mediterranean Sea on boats. The country earns USD 15 billion a year in remittance, but that is a success story that comes at a high price.
You’d be forgiven for thinking microfinance has gone wildly out of fashion. The “development caravan”—defined as the wagon train of poverty interventions that excite donors—has pulled away from micro-lending, drawn to more powerful things like BRAC-style graduation programmes (which aim to “graduate” people from extreme poverty into a sustainable livelihood) and bKash-like mobile money, according to recent coverage in The Economist.
Waiting at an airport on my way home from a trip to Malaysia, a man walked up to me hesitantly and asked if I could help him fill out his immigration card. He was a Bangladeshi man in his mid-40s. While filling out his documents, we started talking and I learned that he was on a migrant worker’s visa and used to be a chef at a resort. When I asked him if he was headed home for a vacation, he informed me with a stoic expression that he was being deported for being Hepatitis B positive.
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.
Moksedul, a Bangladeshi migrant worker who resided in Qatar for three years, almost believed that his voice was never to be heard; that his stories would remain untold. In fact, it almost came as a shock to him when he was asked to get up on stage and speak up, and speak up he did.