Kadam Sareng wanted to rejoin his earlier job abroad, across the ocean. And he had two reasons - the scarce employment opportunities here in Bangladesh and relatively lower wages in the countryside. But no matter how much he cited these reasons to his newlywed bride, he couldn't convince her to agree on his decision.
As his efforts went in vain, he further pointed to his attraction for sea waves that has tempted him since adolescence.
Although a scene from the Bengali classic film Sareng Bou released in 1978, these three factors are still no less relevant today.
An opportunity to ensure better livelihood, live a decent life with higher social status, and widen family networks abroad are the most common drivers of migration.
When someone plans to leave the homeland a second time there are some factors that drive the decision, including habituation with overseas lifestyle, hoping to cope better with exploitative practices abroad the second time around, and a wary welcome from the community at home. Moreover, the poor capacity of the state to protect the enterprises launched by the returnees also plays an additional role.
The total number of returnees in recent times has been much higher due to the Covid-19 pandemic. An estimated 500,000 workers were compelled to return to Bangladesh in the wake of the pandemic.
While working with the BRAC migration program, aimed to measure the returnee migrant's current status and provide them with psycho-social support, I encountered many of them. I noticed very few of them showed any interest in staying in the country for their livelihood.
A similar view was also shared by three-quarters of the respondents in a recent (2020) survey conducted by IOM on the Covid-19 pandemic affected returnee migrants. Therefore, I tried to diagnose the roots of their motivations and framed my observations into micro, mezzo and macro categories.
At the individual level (micro), the benefits of living an ordered and regulated life abroad is appreciated by the returnees. It helps them keep control over their income.
Although life in a destination country is usually devoid of joy, restricted either by a hectic work schedule or the hurdles of tackling regular chores, at the end of the month they receive a fixed amount, a part of which can be transferred to meet the needs of the family at home.
In contrast, this ordinary equation does not work well when they are at home. Opting for a life of day labour at home seems unattractive, as the downsized income can barely meet the basic requirement of living. A job at a construction site at home offers wages that are significantly lower than his or her pay abroad.
At the community level (mezzo), an interesting aspect is that returnee migrants usually bring with them a celebrating story of achievement around which a new identity is built. The returnees are constantly evaluated by what s/he has achieved abroad. Therefore, neither relatives nor neighbours show an interest to provide any type of economic assistance when an unsuccessful returnee looks to be self-employed in their own country.
Instead, quite surprisingly, the same people are highly likely to be convinced to lend money to a returnee when he/she approaches for remigration. The underlying reason for this behaviour is associated with a presumption that migrating overseas for employment guarantees absolute affluence.
In the broader aspect (macro), the economic idea we have been promoting for accelerating the growth never includes the interest of the marginalised groups, as well as the entrepreneurial efforts of migrants. The truth is - around three to four lakh BDT is enough for an average arrangement of migration, while some of the returnees criticised the nature of the market in Bangladesh that requires a double amount of money to initiate a mid-sized business enterprise.
The poor ranking of the country in the `ease of doing business' index indicates the adverse environment the small and relatively new players grapple with. Moreover, the dominance of credit sales in the rural economy hinders the feasibility of small businesses like grocery shops, which are easy to venture, but considered unreliable for subsistence.
Confronted with multiple difficulties thus, the returnee migrants become marginalised in their own land, resulting in an outflow of labour to the foreign land. But the consequences of re-migration, as we see, neither favour the fortune of the family nor did it help Kadem Sareng go after his dreams. Instead, the story concluded with hope to be found in the homeland.
Therefore, it is time to stand by the empty-handed returnee migrants who took risks not only for the causes of self-betterment but also the fate of the country. The initiatives that have already been taken for reintegration need to be scaled up, unhindered and properly monitored to ensure sustainable implementation.
The author works as the Sector Specialist-Counseling at BRAC Migration Program.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.