Despite the increasing number of migrants' deaths in destination countries, especially in six Gulf States, the authorities are yet to initiate any investigation into the unnatural deaths, observed migration stakeholders.
Lack of implementation of occupational safety measures and mental stress are also resulting in untimely death of migrant workers, CR Abrar, executive director of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), noted in his keynote presentation at an event organised at the Six Seasons hotel in Dhaka on Wednesday.
"In the absence of proper mitigating measures at destinations, migrant workers are exposed to hard climatic conditions and protection against poor air quality. These risks are compounded by abusive working conditions, including excessive working hours and intake of non-nutritious diet," he said at the unveiling event of a multi-country report, titled "The death of migrant workers in the Gulf".
He further said that competition among countries of origin and perceived benefits of outward migration and Gulf States' effective use of economic and political leverage deter the origin states from collectively demanding better protection.
At least 11,167 bodies of deceased Bangladeshis came from six Gulf States (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) from 2016 to September 2021, according to the report of RMMRU.
Among them, 51.35% are from Saudi Arabia, 13% from the UAE, 13.31% from Oman, 11% from Kuwait, 7.02% from Qatar and 4.28% from Bahrain.
Meanwhile, data from Wage Earners' Welfare Board (WEWB) shows that the number of dead bodies coming home from abroad is on an increasing trend since 2016 to 2021, except the Covid-19 induced year 2020.
The highest number of 3803 dead bodies came home from different countries in the last year. However, the actual number is bigger as many deceased bodies were buried in the destination countries.
"According to a report, we found 68.23% were natural deaths, road accidents caused 10.5% of the deaths, 8.13% deaths were from Covid-19, 3.02% deaths occurred at workplaces, 2.6% died due to stroke and 1.17% due to heart attacks," said Arif Ahmed Khan, director of Wage Earners' Welfare Board.
"I think there were many unnatural deaths," he added.
Shariful Hasan, Head of Migration at BRAC, mentioned that more than 36,000 dead bodies were brought to Bangladesh in the last 12 years.
"Though the authorities in the destinations mentioned various reasons, I found that most of the deaths were not natural as the average age range is 33-34 years. But there is no in-depth investigation from Bangladesh sides about these deaths."
He emphasised the need for developing a module for health protection of migrant workers in the pre-departure training manuals.
Barrister Jyortirmoy Barua, advocate, Bangladesh Supreme Court, served the reminder that conducting autopsy of all unnatural deaths of its nationals is a legal obligation for Bangladesh. He also called for engaging the ILO and World Health Organization to ensure health protection of workers in the destination countries.
The speakers also called upon labour receiving countries to set up teams of inspectors and medical examiners in facilities that engage migrant workers. They also stressed the introduction of non-invasive autopsy procedures in consultation with experts.
The Gulf States have largely avoided structural labour reforms, and origin states have been unable to ensure proper protection for their nationals abroad.
Among others, ruling party MP Tanvir Shakil Joy, Secretary General of Bangladesh Parliamentary Caucus of Migration Mehjabin Khaled and former foreign secretaries Shahidul Haque and Touhid Hossain spoke on the occasion.