Bangladesh must step up efforts to strengthen regulation of the migrant recruitment system to protect migrant workers against exploitation and abuses, a UN expert said on Tuesday.
“Recruitment currently imposes exorbitant high costs on many migrants, creating debt bondage, much of which are imposed by “middlemen” who are used to recruit workers,” said Felipe González Morales, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, in a statement at the end of a 10-day official visit to Bangladesh.
González Morales urged authorities to protect the rights of migrant workers at all stages of migration, including pre-departure, during employment abroad and upon their return.
The Special Rapporteur commended the government for actions taken to curb these challenges, but said there was still a need to regulate, closely monitor and enhance the recruitment system to ensure effective protection for migrants, including better access to justice.
“Despite the positive economic contributions migrant workers bring to the local economy and the existence of necessary legislation and policy, many flaws still exist in the recruitment system which adversely impacts the rights of migrant workers. These challenges exist at all stages of migration,” he said in his preliminary observation.
“The desire to work abroad has created a complex market for private recruitment agencies (PRAs). These agencies are required to be registered with the Bangladeshi Association of International Recruitment Agency (BAIRA).I was told around 1,700 PRAs are currently registered with BAIRA.
These agencies then rely heavily on middlemen/intermediaries -otherwise known as dalal- to recruit workers from communities all over the country,” he said.
“I am encouraged to see that BAIRA is a means to encourage registration and oversight of PRAs. However, I am concerned that there is no proper regulatory framework yet to oversee the use and recruitment of dalals, as many of them impose exorbitant costs on aspirant migrants, profiting from them in the process.”
He welcomed the discussion by the government “to have this intermediary registered for better oversight and monitoring”.
González Morales was appointed as the Special Rapporteur in June 2017. He is a professor of International Law at the Diego Portales University, in Santiago de Chile, where he also directs the Master's Degree in International Human Rights Law.
Between 2008 and 2015 he served as Commissioner and Rapporteur on Migrants of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, of which he was president between 2010 and 2011.
The expert noted the stark difference in skilled migration schemes channeled through government-to-government initiatives, which yield more beneficial results for migrants due to more robust regulation and oversight.
“It is the lower-skilled migrants who are often subject to vulnerable situations, including exploitation, as they are often poor, lack education and without access to information that can help inform their decisions and enhance their migration experiences,” González Morales said.
The Special Rapporteur encouraged ongoing training initiatives for aspiring migrant workers but stressed the need to better equip them with adequate information prior to departure, including recourse when they suffer abuse.
He welcomed the establishment of a database of aspiring migrant workers as well as better regulation of middlemen, including requirements for registration.
González Morales emphasised that responsibility for migrant workers equally falls on countries of destination.
“These countries must do their part in ensuring strong protection for migrant workers, particularly women who are disproportionately at risk of human rights violations when they are hired as domestic workers,” he said.
“Destination countries – most of them in the Middle East – must also take an active role in investigating and sanctioning perpetrators of human rights violations against Bangladeshi migrant workers,” the Special Rapporteur said.
“At the same time, Bangladesh should continue reinforcing its consular services”, he added.
During his visit, the Special Rapporteur travelled to Cox’s Bazar to meet with Rohingya refugees.
He praised Bangladesh for receiving nearly one million Rohingyas escaping from Myanmar and said he was impressed by the resilience of the Rohingya refugees – some of whom have been living in camps for over five years, and others 30 years since first arrivals in the early 1990s.
“A durable solution for all Rohingya refugees is critical,” the UN expert said. He expressed concern about the lack of legal status for Rohingyas, and noted that children who are born in the camps he visited are not issued an official birth certificate.
The expert also called on the authorities to facilitate permits to improve access to education through learning centers and life skills training which many Rohingyas have praised and welcomed as a means to a more hopeful and dignified life.
He also noted the need to upgrade the quality of housing in the camps particularly in light of the impact of climate change that have resulted in fire and flooding incidents.