Said jobless expats
Staff Correspondent: Left jobless due to corona pandemic last year a helpless Nurul Azim Babu returned from Dubai to his home in Chattagram, his future dark and gloomy.
The money he had saved from his six-year job as a driver exhausted soon forcing a desperate Babu to look for a new job or start a small business in Bangladesh.
The job proved elusive and no business was coming his way as the father of three children had no capital.
At this point Babu received good news.
The government announced a Tk 700 crore package of incentives for the Bangladeshi expatriates like him who had to return home after losing jobs abroad due to Covid-19.
As advised by a friend he went to the state-owned Prabashi Kallyan Bank and applied for a loan of Tk 3 lakh.
It did not take long for the helpless man to realize getting the loan was not going to be a cakewalk.
“The first thing the bank asked me to do is to prove that I have an at least one-year-old running business in Bangladesh.” “Since I had no such business and no one to help me in this regard I did not qualify for the loan.”
Haunted by his job loss and subsequent harassment at home a frustrated Babu wondered if the government offer has been “a kind of deception.”
This is not only Babu’s tale. A good number of an estimated five lakh Bangladeshi returnee expatriates have echoed his frustration in interviews with this correspondent.
Consider the case of Sohag Hawlader, who returned from Lebanon after being fired from his work with his employer citing coronavirus woes.
He said, “If an ordinary expatriate like me goes for a loan from PKB, they ask to submit trade license and signature of a businessman, signature of another government official as guarantee.”
Sohag, who has his wife and a child continued: “They (PKB) are posting advertisement on Facebook and YouTube: it is very easy to get loan from the bank. There should have a limit to harassment.
“My request to all expatriates is not to take a loan from them as they are insulting us,” said an angry Shohag.
The PKB management strongly refutes the allegations.
Zahidul Haq, managing director of PKB told that they are successfully disbursing their loan to the returnee migrants who wanted to start their new business or project in Bangladesh.
“The Bank is trying its best to help the migrants in financing their businesses,” he said.
He countered that many expatriates have understood the package as one-time charity, not a loan.
“People want to take money from the bank as incentives, but not as loan. Those who are complaining don’t want to follow the procedure needed to get loan. We only sanction loan to the people who can really show a plan of business as our aim is to reintegrate them,” he said.
He mentioned that the bank has already disbursed almost Tk 250 crore to the 13000 migrants in last 11 months.
The bank is still following up the applications who have failed to take the loan as “we will get another amount of Tk 390 crore from the government,” he said.
Last year the government announced a Tk 700 crore fund for rehabilitation and re-employment of the jobless overseas workers.
It came as many Bangladeshis to the country after Covid-19-induced loss of overseas employment.
The PKB says it has disbursed Tk 250 crore to almost 13000 returnees until June 21 this year, covering only 2% of the returnee migrants.
Yet there are outpouring of allegations from the affected expatriates.
Tanjil Islam, a returnee, said, “I went to the Cox’s Bazar branch of PKB six times, but did not get any loan.”
“They (bank officials) came to my home and demanded money. I didn’t pay and so they submitted the bad report about me.”
Another returnee from Saudi Arabia Muneer Islam said that the expatriate welfare and loan distribution is just a propaganda. They are charging the same interest rate like other commercial banks.”
Is it an example on how a good government initiative fails to reach the intended beneficiaries.
The government has created a low interest loan facility of Tk 500 crore, while a Tk200 crore fund from the Wage Earners’ Welfare Board was also formed.
Loans for the returnee migrants are being distributed through the PKB.
The PKB is giving Tk1-5 lakh loans at 4% interest to returnee migrants. Those who receive the reintegration loans will enjoy a grace period ranging from one month to one year before they start to repay the loans. A returnee can take a maximum of Tk 2 lakh as loan without any collateral.
According to a rapid study conducted by the Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme (Okup) last year, around 80 per cent of the returnee migrant workers want to be reintegrated in Bangladesh. But apparently the number of loan receivers is still very poor.
A survey by Brac Migration Programme has found that 47.23 per cent of 417 returnee migrants do not have any source of income now.
The report says 52.77 per cent of the 417 respondents to the survey have somehow managed work.
Of them, 24.19 per cent are working in agriculture, 22.33 per cent as day labourers, 35.35 per cent in small businesses and 17.67 per cent are working in other jobs.
The survey was conducted in March-April to explore and analyse the socio-economic and psycho-social situation of returnee migrants after one year of their return home during the pandemic.
In a similar survey conducted around the same time last year, Brac found 87 per cent of 558 returnee migrants did not have income opportunities, said Brac Migration Programme Head Shariful Hasan.
Also, 28 per cent respondents said they have debts now. Of them, 61.95 per cent borrowed money after returning home, and 25.05 per cent had debts previously.
Rights groups suggest the government increase budgetary allocation for the expatriates’ welfare. They call for their inclusion into the government programmes and policies in response to the shock of the pandemic.
Mentioning migrant workers’ immense contribution to the country’s economy, RMMRU Executive Director Prof CR Abrar said,
“Many migrants have come back under very dire circumstances, and they have not been able to make ends meet.”
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