by Nadeem Qadir;
Domestic migrant workers are important contributors to Bangladesh’s economy by way of putting their physical might in projects like the Padma Bridge, but reliable sources said most have been hard hit by COVID-19 and until work started food aid should continue.
Officials working at the root level told this correspondent that domestic migrant workers have mostly no permanent address and thus, are not listed with local bodies to help them get aid in these days of crisis brought upon by coronavirus since 8 March this year.
As a labour-intensive country, it is a gigantic challenge for the authorities to manage them in general conditions and more so at a time of serious health crisis during which almost all kinds of works for this group has stopped. Movement has been restricted due to lock-down.
Experts said that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) must take the lead in taking care of the domestic migrant workers as others are listed for government food aid.
One official said “the migrant workers are really suffering as they got stuck in different parts of the country due to lock-downs about which they have no knowledge.”
“Many are separated from their families, but maybe they are listed and getting aid,” he added.
An army officer deployed in one of the 64 Bangladeshi districts echoed the official and said “the hardship of these migrant workers is unbearable and we are taking food to them as much as possible.”
“We are sharing our stock of food ration and extending them any help we can offer,” he told this correspondent.
The problem, the army officer said was that even after requesting the local level officials or elected councillors, it was not possible to manage aid because the allotted amount was only for those listed as local residents.
“Thank God it is time to harvest rice paddy and some were diverted to those areas where there is shortage of handymen,” he said.
The troops have been permitted to share their stock of ration and many people across Bangladesh are surviving due to this gesture of the army.
TV footages show the army personnel have gone door-to-door in some places leaving behind food, mainly rice, flour and lentil, at the doors as the helpless people slept at night, with many shy to ask for help.
More than 7,000 troops were deployed across the country just days before a “holiday” was declared from March 26 in aid to civil administration. Their primary task is to contain the spread of COVID-19 by keeping people indoors and maintain “social distance.”
The task has been tough so far but will continue “as long as the government wanted,” army officers and news reports said.
With rapid urbanisation and infrastructure development in the past decade, internal migration saw a spike in numbers of people moving from one project to another, besides the annual movement of day workers during the harvest time.
According to available statistics the rise in rate of urbanization explained the dramatic shift from agricultural to industrial production (the former down from 32 percent to 19 percent and latter up from 21 percent to 28 percent as a share of GDP between 1980 and 2010).
It is vital to differentiate between seasonal and longer-term population movements. Environmental challenges play a big part in these two considerations. Referring to the first, Bangladesh has a long established seasonal pattern of temporary rural worker movement, associated with the annual cycle of rainy and dry periods, experts said.
At least 400,000 people move to Dhaka every year, according to the World Bank. This movement is mainly due to increasing number of readymade garment industries, setting up of economic zones and setting up of factories producing consumer products like TV and freeze. The booming hospitality sector, also suffering due to COVID-19, also draws migrant workers.