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Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

Around eight million Bangladeshi migrants are estimated to be working in 143 countries, based on 2011 government figures. Most migrate to Middle Eastern countries. These countries together absorbed about 70% of the cumulative total; the KSA alone accounted for 45%. Technical professionals like doctors, nurses, architects and skilled labour go as permanent migrants to settle in the western countries like the USA, Canada, UK, Italy etc.

The money remitted by a migrant worker is used to pay import bills and international financial obligations. It’s also used for poverty reduction through micro-enterprise funding, generating substantial employment and income. Statistics show that in 2012, it covered 11% of the total GDP of Bangladesh. For this reason Bangladesh government has taken initiatives to increase the flow of remittance income and from this given chart it can be clearly said that remittance income is increasing gradually.

FLOW OF REMITTANCE IN BANGLADESH (2003-2012, NOVEMBER)

Edition Remittance ( B.D in Billion USD
2003 3.18
2004 3.56
2005 4.25
2006 5.48
2007 6.57
2008 9.01
2009 10.72
2010 11.00
2011 12.17
2012(November) 12.87

FLOW OF LABOR MIGRATION IN BANGLADESH (2003- 2012, NOVEMBER

Edition Number of Labor Migration
2003 254190
2004 272958
2005 252702
2006 381516
2007 832609
2008 875055
2009 475278
2010 300702
2011 568062
2012 ( November) 575389

In general, the migrant workers are young and come from middle class and lower middle class families. According to Bangladesh Bank Research Report (2012), among the migrant workers, 47 percent have gone abroad by borrowing money from others and 41 percent have gone by selling or leasing out land to others. On an average, migrants earn Tk 21,363 per month (6 times the GDP per capita in 2008-2009), although the majority (54.3 percent) earns between Tk 10,000 to 20,000 (2.8 to 5.6 times GDP per capita). Migrants save 62% of their income on average and the amount they save per month constituted 3.7 times the country’s monthly GDP per capita. The average remittance is Tk. 81,710 per annum, which is 1.9 times per capita annual GDP and 32 % of migrants’ average income. Middle income people are increasing day by day not only in the urban but also in the rural area.

But there is no sufficient information of migration of any Indigenous people. According to the IOM, it is found that maximum migrant workers are unskilled and so they are at risk to  lose their jobs. Similarly, indigenous people also lack access to information and technology which prevents them from participating in, and benefiting from, technological and other changes in society, particularly economic reforms and developments. But there exist a strong middle class people amongst the Adivasis who are fighting for their rights to develop their community. Some skilled and educated indigenous people migrate into developed country like the USA, Australia, France but there is little  information of their migration in the Middle East country. Why so?

It seems that land dispossession is the main problem that the indigenous peoples in Bangladesh face. Still their lands, forests and territories are being taken away from them without their free, prior and informed consent. They cannot protect their land because they have no proper document of ownership of the land. Historically, it is found that every indigenous people only reserved some specific land for the cultivation of food which known as “Jhum chash”. This permission of reservation was taken from the King of each community. But the Bangladesh government ignores this system and takes the land from them in the name of building eco-park, setting up military camp and migrating non-indigenous people. Indigenous peoples, therefore, cannot sell their land or property to migrate to the Middle East which is the primary source of migration funding. Recently in March 2007, without consulting with the indigenous people, the Ruma cantonment authority ordered them to leave the area as they had acquired about 7,500 acres of ancestral land for the expansion of Ruma garrison. More than 4,000 indigenous families who mostly belong to the Mro community will lose their land due to this acquisition. From this example it is clear that indigenous people have no right to own their property. This significantly reduces their ability to migrate.

Secondly, the poorer people of ethnic communities live their life by subsistence agriculture which allows little savings.  The market is controlled by the non-indigenous people and even indigenous businessmen cannot make enough extra money to pay the migration cost.

Thirdly, the more educated ones are into government services and other services and have little surplus to spend on migration. So it is seen that those few who are getting higher education is going abroad permanently. But maximum people are not trying to go to Middle East to change their livelihood like other non- indigenous people because they can’t afford to.

Lastly, indigenous people have no information about migration policy of the government and in the hill areas there are few recruiting agencies. Not only this, but the communication gap is also a big reason of not going to the Middle East countries. It is seen that maximum UK migrants come from Sylhet and in migrants of Middle East countries, come from Khulna, Chittagong, Noakhali, etc. because of the communication network and facilities. Adivasis lack these.

The government does not appear to be interested in taking any initiatives to facilitate of migration of indigenous people. Though internal migration occurs with Jumma youths and Garo girls in EPZs and beauty parlours but, indigenous people experience lack of job opportunities in their remote homelands. They also suffer from widespread livelihood insecurity, experience unresolved political issues, encounter widening social injustice, etc. Like the remittance, the internal income of these lower wage people plays a vital role to change their lifestyle. If the government gives more emphasis on migration of indigenous people then it will help to increase both the flow of labour migration and remittance because these people have some skill which help them to compete with other migrants.

Basically, in most of the cases it is seen that brilliant indigenous students get 100% scholarship from Australia through UNDP scholarship programme and many professionals are migrating to the USA, Canada, UK, France, Japan etc. Amitavo Chakma is one of the famous indigenous intellectuals who is the VC of a well known Canadian University. His family members live in Bangladesh and are in a good position. In France, Singapore, Thailand some indigenous workers are found. But still there is no proper data which provides the information of not migrating to the Middle East because few are going and unless this happens at a large scale, the general economic profile will not improve.

It is clear that remittance is now an important issue because our economy growth is dependent on it. Only a small portion of the indigenous migrant’s income is included in the total remittance income of Bangladesh. The flow of remittance will be increased by exporting more skilled labour and professionals. So if the government takes proper steps to help indigenous people migrate,  the total income will increase and Bangladesh will become a middle income country while allowing the Adivasis to take advantage of what many Bangladeshis are also taking.

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Tatini Chakma is a student of Brac University and an activist.