The Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants (BCSM), a network of 24 organisations working on labour migration, has demanded an easier and faster Covid-19 vaccination registration process for outbound migrant workers.
BCSM leaders raised the demand at the virtual press conference, "Implementation of Registration for Covid-19 Vaccination for Migrant Workers," on Tuesday.
Citing various problems faced by migrant workers in registering for vaccination, they fear many migrants will fail to reach their respective workplaces due to lack of timely vaccination.
BCSM leaders said hundreds of outbound migrant workers – especially those heading to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – from Dhaka, Chattogram, and other districts, are facing difficulties trying to register with the Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET).
Registration with the BMET — either through the 'Ami Probashi' app or by applying in person at the nearest district employment office — is mandatory for all migrant workers seeking to be vaccinated on a priority basis through Surokkha, the designated vaccination app.
At the press conference, the rights activists said that after registration with BMET, many workers are not getting the SMS responses within 72 hours, required for the next step in the registration process.
Tasneem Siddiqui, founding chair of the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit, read out a written statement at the event.
"All migrant workers wishing to go abroad are trying to register through the Ami Probashi app, creating a huge pressure on the server that has slowed down the registration process. Now, we suggest the authorities concerned take a separate initiative for the early registration and vaccination of migrants who have confirmed visas with a very narrow window for travel before the visas expire," she said.
"To ensure speedy vaccination, we suggest that the expatriates be vaccinated with single dose vaccines, but of course, that vaccine has to be permitted in the concerned country," she added.
Focusing on data security for migrants, Tasneem Siddiqui said, "It has to be ensured that the data provided by migrant workers during registration will not be used by others except the government. A disclaimer should be included in the registration system in this regard because some other parties are also involved in the operation of Ami Probashi and Surokkha apps."
Immigrants who went abroad before 2021 had previously registered with payment. They are being bound to re-register as it is not possible to coordinate or synchronise the previous online database of BMET and the Ami Probashi app. Understandably, they are reluctant to pay an extra Tk200/300 under these circumstances.
"We agree with the migrants and BCSM requests the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Employment to waive the registration fee for migrants who are re-migrating to the same country where they were earlier, and whose smart cards are valid," read the written statement.
Since many immigrants are trying to register at the same time, it is necessary to ensure a server with more bandwidth, the statement added.
Though around 82,000 workers registered with the BMET till Sunday, a significant number of others failed to do so due to technical issues caused by extreme pressure on the server, said BMET sources.
Providing more details about the problem, BMET's Director General Md Shahidul Alam said, "Our server is capable of handling 15,000 registrations per day, but far more migrants are applying daily. This high volume pressure is triggering technical glitches in the system and many are facing difficulties in connecting to the server."
He added that of the people who have registered so far, around 2,000 Saudi and Kuwait-bound migrants are getting Pfizer jabs in Dhaka every day.
What is the complete process?
The government's Surokkha app is designated for Covid-19 vaccine registration and is operated by the ICT Division.
Migrant workers registered with the BMET will be able to register for vaccination on a priority basis, using the Surokkha App, or the online portal www.surokkha.gov.bd .
Successfully registered, a person will get an SMS on their phone with the name of their vaccination centre and the date.
Among others, BCSM Chair, Dr CR Abrar, and BCSM Co-Chair, Syed Saiful Haque, were present at the event.