The unprecedented Covid-19 crisis disrupted economic activity in all countries and affected all citizens including migrant workers. The coronavirus outbreak caused multi-dimensional difficulties for migrant workers such as fear of being sent back, insufficient healthcare rights and benefits, family insolvency, fear of deportation, uncertainty about the future, and crowded accommodations that endangered their health. Mohammad Rezaul Karim of the Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre examines the effects of pandemic on the mental health of migrant workers from Bangladesh.
Labor-intensive development activities in many parts of the world (e.g., the Middle East, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea) as well as aging populations in many developed countries (e.g., Italy and Japan) have stimulated a demand for migrant workers that has underpinned sustainable economic growth. In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the need for migrant workers has not lessened; rather, the contributions of these workers have become of even more vital, especially if economies are to get through the lingering pandemic and recover.
The remarkable economic contributions of migrant workers are not limited to only their home countries but also strengthen the host countries by allowing them to meet the challenges of labor shortages and higher aggregate production with cheaper migrant labor from developing countries. For instance, some 13 million Bangladeshi migrant workers engaged in more than 100 countries contribute US$15 billion to Bangladesh’s economy every year. Approximately 30 million family members depend on their income.
Sudden loss of income has exacerbated family hardship. This situation produces tension for both remittance senders abroad and dependents at home. Remittance-dependent family members have abruptly had to deal with various issues such as difficulties in meeting their food needs, threats to their health, and lack of money to pay for their children’s education and other expenses. Research shows that 60 percent of family members who completely depend on remittances for their daily expenses and 70 percent of workers are suffering a financial crisis. The pandemic has worsened their vulnerabilities.
Precarious working environments including unhealthy accommodations have become an urgent issue of public health. Crowded accommodations shared by many migrant workers are a main cause of the spread of coronavirus among them because it is impossible to maintain minimum physical distancing. They also share kitchens, dining areas, common spaces, and personal belongings; one filthy room may house more than 80 people. The cramped and unsanitary environment escalates Covid-19 infections among dormitory dwellers, outbreaks trigger fear of higher infection rates, and restrictions generate stress that compromises mental health.
A significant number of Bangladeshis have already returned to their country because of the coronavirus fallout. The emergence of the Omicron variant intensified the challenges migrant workers face and increased fears of having to face multiple difficulties such as restriction, deportation and compulsory isolation. Bangladesh has imposed a compulsory 15-day quarantine for migrants returning from seven African countries.
The economic recession and financial downturns of the host countries may force even more to return. This has led to anxiety, stress, suffering and paranoia for both remittance senders abroad and their dependents in Bangladesh. Deportation due to Covid-19 deepened the crisis and produced tensions among workers. Returnees have been stigmatized as they were not welcomed home by neighbors and relatives. Panic spread during the pandemic as local government bodies struggled to track recent returnees. Returnee migrants including those who tested positive were reported to have suffered from social stigma, hatred, and denial of health services.
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