Coming home: Reintegration of returnee migrants

Have we prioritized reintegrating our migrants back into the society? Mehedi Hasan

Returning migrants are a huge asset to our country

Given the current migration narrative, reintegration of migrants returning home is becoming an important topic. In Bangladesh, though out-migration has attracted much attention from policymakers and development partners, reintegration has been glossed over in both policies and practices.

We don’t even know how many migrants are returning to Bangladesh each year. There is a need to examine the challenges migrants face when trying to reintegrate themselves into the local economy and their community.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) Bangladesh, through a series of consultation on the reintegration of migrants in Rajshahi, Sylhet, and Khulna attempted to understand the grassroots realities and develop feasible recommendations to address the challenges.

Challenges

Income generation and financial literacy: Most migrants do not plan their post return phase of migration cycle but instead return under unplanned, emergency circumstances.

After returning, migrants often face difficulties in finding employment despite having enhanced skills and experiences. There is no mechanism to help them locate opportunities, assess and certify the skills they acquired abroad.

Most migrants are not aware of the avenues and options for savings, investments, and productive use of remittances. The majority of their remittances are used up for consumption, while they are still abroad.

Investment decisions are also frequently limited to land purchase, which drives up the cost of land in migration prone districts, without many productivity gains from that land.

Health and well-being: Many migrants suffer from diseases, occupational injuries, and health problems while working abroad. They often work in hazardous settings and live in poor housing conditions.

Limited access to health care deepens their vulnerabilities abroad and at home, as migrants can be returned due to health conditions and the correct treatment is not always available in their home districts.

Retuning migrants can also be in need of counselling, especially if they faced exploitation, difficult working and living conditions, torture, or sexual abuse. Additionally, migrants working in countries experiencing conflict or crisis are further traumatized. In many such cases, they are forced to return home earlier than planned and without compensation, which undermines the success of their migration cycle.

Gender: Female migration is a rising phenomenon in the country. The majority of female migrants are employed in domestic work in Gulf countries. Incidences of physical, mental, and sexual abuse are not uncommon.

Female returnee migrants need psycho-social counselling and legal support to address the trauma and injustice. Social stigma is often attached to female returnee migrants, who then face criticism from family and society.

Social norms that uphold patriarchal notions that limit female mobility should be addressed through media and outreach campaigns.

Access to services: Returnee migrants have nowhere to turn for support when they return. There is no grievance redress system for them. Mechanisms to deal with complaints of returnee migrants are limited.

Returnee migrants are not registered or tracked, making it further challenging to provide them with support services on arrival. Since there is no database, information about their location, occupation, and skills is not available. There is need for a coordinated, integrated, and comprehensive approach to sustainable reintegration of returnee migrants.

Recommendations

Policy: Well-defined policy framework for sustainable reintegration of returnee migrants should be established. It takes the whole of the community to ensure sustainable reintegration and therefore the civil society also needs to play a role.

The Ministry of Expatriate Welfare should establish a returnee migrant’s database and create linkages or referral services for social and economic reintegration both, with the public and the private sector.

Services: Returnee migrants require a range of services — psychological counselling to address the traumas, legal aid services for victims of trafficking and fraudulent recruitment practices, social safety net coverage, health care services, and business linkages for employment and entrepreneurship.

One stop service centres should be established with a universal hotline to cater to returnee migrants’ social, psychological, and economic reintegration needs. Special arrangements at airports would be helpful to facilitate various procedures and reduce customs, immigration, and luggage related complications.

Easing access to finances for returnee migrants who are interested in establishing business ventures might stimulate income generating opportunities. Labour attaches and embassies abroad should stay in touch with migrants to monitor their work and living conditions and protect them when needed.

Training and recognition: The government ought to provide financial literacy training to promote efficient and productive use of remittances. Creating an enabling environment to nurture returnee migrant’s skills and recognizing skills learned through the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) certification would be helpful. RPL acknowledges skills obtained through informal, on-the-job learning.

Inter-governmental negotiation: The Global Compact on Migration provides a platform for states to engage in discussion and negotiation about key issues surrounding migration. This provides a unique opportunity for the government to address issues which are beyond control of country of origins.

The government should introduce preventive measures and increased awareness campaigns to tackle xenophobia and inhumane forms of behaviour to migrants. Strengthening legal frameworks to protect the rights of migrant at the destination country, including right to health care and other social services as well as protections afforded to domestic workers is necessary.

Ethical and fair employment agreements and stronger monitoring of recruitment practices can promote better practices.

Migrants contribute to the nation’s economic growth and their household security. As such, they should be treated with respect, their rights ensured.

Their reintegration should be facilitated in the most meaningful way, as returning migrants are a huge asset to their communities and to our country.

 

Ashfaqur Rahman Khan is a Program Associate at the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Shazia Omar is a writer, an activist, and a yogini. www.shaziaomar.com.

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