Alongside an increase in employment opportunities for returning migrants after the government lifted the nationwide shutdown, their financial challenges are also on the rise, according to a recent report of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The report indicated that more returnees were able to find jobs, health and psychosocial challenges declined and household-level food access improved; however, household debt increased and migrant households were adopting negative coping measures – including reducing expenditures on health and borrowing money to repay loans.
The findings came from the second-round data collection under the report titled "Rapid Assessment Round 2: Needs and Vulnerabilities of Internal and International Return Migrants in Bangladesh."
The latest round of data collection was completed in the months of August and September 2020 in 12 high return-migration districts in Bangladesh, read a press release on Tuesday.
A total of 1,584 respondents took part in the survey, including 875 international returned migrants and 709 internal returned migrants.
In June 2020, IOM interviewed 2,765 internal and international migrant workers who had returned to Bangladesh and then re-interviewed 1,584 of the respondents three months later.
The findings indicate that there was a 20% increase of international returnees that reported they were facing challenges (round one 50%; round two 71%).
The most prevalent primary challenges reported were difficulty in finding a job (47%), financial problems (29%) and repayment of debt (21%).
Among the respondents available for the second-round of the survey, the unemployment rate dropped to 64%.
Among the same respondents the unemployment rate was 74% in May to June 2020.
The decline in unemployment may be attributed, at least partially, to the easing of shutdown measures at the end of May and the lifting of the general business shutdown and other restrictions at the beginning of September.
Nevertheless, unemployment among respondents remained high, added the release.
The number of international returnee households, reportedly eating three meals a day, increased from June to September by 18% and by 43% to 92% for internal returnee households.
The findings indicate that international returnees, who were unable to secure jobs, were more likely to apply for government assistance (60%) than internal returnees (39%).
Both internal and international migrants reported borrowing money, reducing expenditures and depending on donations to cope with financial issues and to repay debt.
In the face of financial problems, 50% of international returned migrants and 71% of internal returned migrants coped with the situations by borrowing money or taking out additional loans.
More than half the respondents who had returned from abroad reported debts of over Tk1 lakh and 28% reported debts of over Tk2 lakh. A total of 58% of international returnees and 53% of internal returnees indicated that their debts had increased from June to September 2020.
IOM Mission Chief in Bangladesh Giorgi Gigauri said, "The information from the research will help us strengthen support systems to provide migrant workers protection against any future outbreak of international concern. The findings of our study support global indications that the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted people on the move."
The number of respondents wishing to return from abroad remained high (78%), and the most popular destinations were India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Italy, and Malaysia.
There was a decrease in the certainty of timelines for going abroad again and respondents reported that this was due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding visas and vaccine access, restrictions on international travel and the cost of travel.
The study was conducted under the EU-funded Regional Evidence for Migration Analysis and Policy project.