Of the Bangladeshi migrants who returned due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 47.23% do not have any income source at present, forcing them to depend on family earnings, loans, and support from relatives, a Brac survey has found.
Also, 52.77% of the respondents said they had managed work somehow. Of them, 24.19% are working in agriculture, 22.33% as day labourers, 35.35% have started small businesses, and 17.67% are doing other jobs.
Brac Migration Programme surveyed 417 returnees, mostly in the 31-35 age group, in 30 districts from March to April this year to explore and analyse their socio-economic and psychosocial situation a year after their return.
The majority of the respondents came back from the Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait, and others from Italy, the UK, Malaysia, and elsewhere.
The survey found that the returnees are facing three types of problems, psychosocial, social, and economic. It found that 28% of the respondents have debts at present and the remaining 72% do not have any.
Of the 28% who have debts, 61.95% received loans after returning to Bangladesh and 25.05% had already been in debt.
Respondents’ level of satisfaction of economic life slightly deteriorated after a year of return.
Of the 417 respondents, 72% said they want to re-migrate. Of them, 89% are rural residents and 11% are urban people.
Also, 28% said they have no interest in remigration.
It was found that the highest rate (84%) of interest in re-migration is among the 26-30 age group.
Moreover, 80% of those who showed interest in re-migration are from Chattogram division, which is the highest, while the rate in Dhaka, Rangpur, Sylhet, Khulna, and Barishal divisions is 76%, 62%, 50%, 46%, and 43% respectively.
According to the survey, 29.24% of the returnees witnessed non-supportive attitude from their neighbours as opposed to 70.76% who said their neighbours had shown supportive attitude towards them.
Moreover, 30% of the respondents felt that social stigma towards them regarding spreading Covid-19 in Bangladesh still remained.
The survey found that 98.32% of the participants were in stress and tensed due to various issues, such as unemployment, having inadequate income, inability to re-migrate, family pressure, etc. while 1.68% had no issues.
The overall psychosocial picture of the respondents could be observed from the fact that their satisfaction of economic life had deteriorated marginally over the period since the lockdown had been imposed.
The respondents continued to exhibit relatively consistent levels of tension and anxiety since the beginning of the lockdown.
Government initiatives for returnees
The government and the expatriates’ welfare ministry took a number of initiatives for emergency support and returnees’ reintegration, including special loans and providing recognition of prior learning certificates.
Considering the situation, Probashi Kallyan Bank’s Tk200 crore rehabilitation loan policy 2020 for Covid-19 affected migrant workers was declared in May 2020 for those who lost their jobs or lives due to coronavirus.
In addition, their family members will be eligible to receive the loan at a lower interest rate (4%) for economic rehabilitation.
Brac made several recommendations to address the socioeconomic situation of the returnees, including a sustainable reintegration project. It said the project should be launched assessing returnees’ short- and long-term vulnerabilities and making customised loan products easily accessible upon the return of expatriates so that they can be engaged in income-generating activities.
It said the government should extend social protection coverage and safety net programmes either in cash or in-kind goods and services to ensure smooth consumption and prevent returnees from slipping into poverty.
Furthermore, it recommended creating domestic employment opportunities for the returnees, especially in infrastructure development and other public provisions, during and after the pandemic that would cushion them against employment-related stress.