International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nation’s Migration Agency, provides immediate and mid- to long-term assistance to vulnerable migrants returning from the European Union (EU) countries.
IOM is supporting the Government to plan for the return, reception, and reintegration of a few hundred thousand migrants in 2020 from destination countries globally, including a number from the EU, said a press release issued on Thursday.
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), each year, around 600,000 workers migrate from Bangladesh in search of better livelihood opportunities abroad. In 2019, around USD 18 billion was remitted to Bangladesh by migrants.
IOM and partners are concerned that the predicted 22 per cent drop in remittances to South Asia, driven by the global economic slowdown, will have adverse consequences for migrants and remittance dependent communities in Bangladesh.
IOM, in partnership with Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), is focused on providing assistance to vulnerable migrants returning from EU countries and looking to secure additional funding to assist vulnerable migrants, particularly those returning from Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC) countries where there have been large-scale, sector-wide retrenchments following the decline in oil prices.
With EU support and under the coordination of the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, IOM is assisting migrants stranded abroad and vulnerable migrants that have returned to Bangladesh from the EU.
Support and counselling are provided to callers to hotline (+8809610102030) set-up by IOM for migrants, promoted and accessed through www.probashihelpline.com. Since March 2020, a total of 111,470 migrants reached out via the website, either through social media interactions or through app-based calls.
Dr. Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, Secretary of Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, said , “Migrants are the frontline soldiers of our national development. It is our priority to ensure the safety and security of migrant workers affected by the pandemic. The Ministry is involved in many initiatives to support migrants.”
Since March 2020, 806 vulnerable migrants, returning from EU countries, have been traced through ten EU funded reintegration service centres that cover 64 districts. Vulnerable migrants are identified, provided with COVID-19-related information, and counselled on how to cope with the adverse impacts of the pandemic, including mobility restrictions, unemployment, and growing debt.
After a needs and vulnerability assessment to identify the most vulnerable, eligible returnees will be provided with an immediate cash grant, long term reintegration support, skills training, and psychosocial counseling support. The provision of tailored assistance will build the resilience of vulnerable migrants to shock events like global health crises, the release added.
According to Rensje Teerink, Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh, “The Coronavirus pandemic is challenging economic and social systems globally. The European Union stands ready to help governments to address the negative impact of the pandemic - on the short, medium and long term - in particular with the most vulnerable communities which include migrants. Through the EU-funded Prottasha project, we ensure in this new post-Coronavirus reality, that migrants returning to Bangladesh from European Union Member States have all the tools at their disposal to be able to reintegrate themselves into society. Solidarity is at the heart of the European Union.
With a focus on the most vulnerable, the European Union supports its partner countries in delivering essential services and safeguarding livelihoods.”
“Hundreds of thousands of migrants are expected to return to Bangladesh once countries relax restrictions and airlines resume flights. For many of these migrants, it isn’t a happy homecoming as they have lost their source of income and due to the global recession it is unlikely that they will be able to return to work abroad until the global labour market recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our concern is that the most vulnerable of these migrants will require immediate assistance to meet their needs for food, shelter, psychosocial, and health assistance and in the medium to long-term they will require debt mediation assistance, and diversification of livelihoods assistance to build their resilience and ensure sustainable reintegration,” said Giorgi Gigauri, IOM Chief of Mission in Bangladesh.
Efforts to reach migrants within the country are ongoing, BRAC has engaged 100 staff and over 1000 community volunteers in COVID-19 awareness-raising activities.
Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC, said, “Migrants need the right COVID-19 related information at the right time so that they protect themselves and rebuild. In this crisis, migrant workers are suffering tremendously, and we need to prioritize our support for them both at home and abroad.”
In addition to providing support to vulnerable migrants, IOM is supporting the government to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, build capacity at points of entry, and provide humanitarian support to Rohingya refugees and vulnerable members of the host community in 18 camps and settlements in Cox’s Bazar district.
Australian High Commission in Dhaka has said they need to re-schedule the special flight, initially scheduled for May 28, and are currently working with the airline to arrange a departure in the second week of June.
The High Commission said they will provide further details to everyone who has confirmed their interest in the third flight as soon as they can confirm them.
There is currently a shortage of quarantine accommodation in Victoria. Melbourne and Adelaide are the only airports permitted for special flights from Dhaka, said the Australian Mission in Dhaka.
The third special flight from Bangladesh will help more Australian citizens return home.
"Due to the ongoing flight suspension, we are considering arranging a third special flight to Colombo to allow passengers to travel by commercial means to Melbourne," said the High Commission in a message.
The High Commission says they need a minimum of 120 full fare passengers to ensure this flight goes ahead.
It said they cannot guarantee that they will be able to organise any further special flights following the departure of the third flight.
The flight is only open to Australian passport holders, Australian permanent visa holders and their spouses, legal guardians or children.
At this stage most scheduled passenger flights to and from Bangladesh remain suspended.
The flight suspension is planned to last until May 30, but it has been extended a number of times and may be extended again, said the High Commission.
The United States has appreciated Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's leadership and described Bangladesh as a "dynamic entrepreneurial society" whose social indicators have been a real success story.
The US mentioned Prime Minister Hasina's leadership in lifting women up in particular saying it has been so noteworthy.
"The last three years has also seen significant growth in the US-Bangladesh relationship," said US acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Alice G. Wells in a special briefing via telephone on Wednesday.
Wells said Bangladesh has rightly been commended for the generous response of its government and people to the Rohingya crisis and their cooperation with international humanitarian partners.
She said the United States is the single largest contributor of assistance to the Rohingya crisis, but Bangladesh is much more than just a host nation for Rohingyas; it is a country that has achieved impressive economic growth over the last decade, accompanied by strides in human development.
"It plays an important role in the Indian Ocean region, and our security cooperation has grown closer," Wells said encouragibg Bangladesh to renew its commitments to democratic institutions and governing structures, which the US thinks will help further growth in bilateral relationship that is based on shared values.
She said the United States will be a "reliable partner" in helping countries of the region on the path to economy recovery they we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have provided over $96 million in COVID-related assistance to the region, but this is really on top of what has been $6 billion in public health investments over the last two decades," said the senior US official.
Wells said they see the "devastating impact" of the disease with the cutting off of supply lines.
She mentioned that it is unfortunate but temporary; and noted the loss of markets as a result of disruptions in the ready-made garments sector.
"Now, already we’re seeking to address that. We’re trying to match-make between Bangladeshi manufacturers and consumers in America for critical medical supplies, as the Bangladeshi factories are retooling and seeking new markets," she said.
Wells said they will continue to look for all opportunities to be able to increase the trade and investment relationship between the two countries.
She mentioned that America remains or has been the largest export market for Bangladesh. "We’re very important to Bangladesh’s economic health."
The US official thinks at a time of some de-risking from China, from diverse – at a time of diversification of global supply chains, this very, very painful time can also be a moment of opportunity for Bangladesh.
Wells said they are all living in challenging times as a result of COVID, but her three years in this position certainly leaves her confident about the strength of the U.S. partnerships in the region and their ability to confront diplomatic, economic, and security challenges together.
She said the bureau will now be very capably led by senior bureau official, Tom Vajda. "But more importantly, I think, the region figures so prominently in the National Security Strategy of the United States."
Covid-19 & Global Efforts
Wells said America – all of America, the government and the people together have provided more than $6.5 billion in assistance and donations, and that is about 60 percent of the global effort.
She said it reflects, again, a historic commitment of America to the region.
Since COVID has broken out in the South and Central Asia region it is about $98 million in COVID-specific, whether it’s technical assistance or PPE or other kinds of material support for governments as they seek to address the crisis.
"And as America also comes out of the pandemic, we’re going to be even better prepared to provide more assistance to our partners," Wells said.
She said they are very proud of the fact that it is not just the American Government, but it is also American people, it is faith-based organizations, it is private sector corporations – Boeing, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, a good corporate social responsibility that is taking place.
Wells underscored that America will stand with the world in responding to all of the effects of this crisis, both health and economic, working bilaterally, through the G20 and G7, through the OECD, through the multilateral lending institutions.
The government has appointed Mosud Mannan, currently serving as the Ambassador to Uzbekistan, as the next Ambassador of Bangladesh to Turkey.
He is the eldest son of late Prof Dr MA Mannan, former MP of Kishoreganj -2 constituency and late Prof Bashira Mannan of Dhaka University.
Ambassador-designate Mannan is a career foreign service officer who belongs to 1984 batch of Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) Foreign Affairs cadre.
In his career, Mannan worked in various capacities at Bangladesh Missions in London, Muscat, New York and Beijing. He also served as Ambassador of Bangladesh to Morocco and Germany.
At the headquarters, he served in various capacities from the rank of Assistant Secretary to Additional Foreign Secretary.
Mosud Mannan obtained his Masters degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1989.
Earlier, he completed MSS in Economics and LLB from Dhaka University.
In 2006, he completed the yearlong National Defence Course from the National Defence College of Bangladesh.
In observance of 50 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he co-edited “Defying All Odds” jointly with Selina Hossain of Bangla Academy in 1999 which was published by UN Information Centre, Dhaka.
He took the initiative to publish two volumes of selected works of National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam in Mandarin language during his assignment in Beijing.
He served as the President of London Diplomatic Association in 1995 and Chairman of Beijing DCMs Group from 2002-2005.
Mannan has been serving as the Chairman of the Afro Asian Ambassadors Group in Uzbekistan for the last three years.
He has been an active Rotarian since 1990 and also a former National Deputy Commissioner (International) of Bangladesh Scouts.
Bangladesh and India on Wednesday made some decisions on the extension of protocol routes, inclusion of two new ones, and declaration of five new Ports of Call to facilitate trade between the two countries.
These decisions will come into effect with the signing of the second Addendum to the Protocol.
Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das and Bangladesh’s Shipping Secretary Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury signed the second Addendum to the Protocol on behalf of Bangladesh.
Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade
Bangladesh and India have a long standing and time-tested Protocol on Transit and Trade through inland waterways of both countries, according to Indian High Commission in Dhaka.
This Protocol, which was first signed in 1972 immediately after the independence of Bangladesh is a reflection of shared history, trusted friendship and mutually beneficial partnership between the two countries. It was last renewed in 2015 for five years with a provision of its automatic renewal for a further period of five years giving long-term assurance to various stakeholders.
The Standing Committee on the Protocol and the Shipping Secretary Level Talks are the institutional arrangement between the two friendly neighbours to discuss and make the Protocol more effective.
During the discussions between India and Bangladesh at these meetings held in October, 2018 in New Delhi and in December, 2019 in Dhaka, there were key decisions.
Routes: The number of Indo-Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) routes are being increased from eight to 10 and new locations are also added to the existing routes.
Inclusion of Sonamura-Daudkhandi stretch of Gumti River (93 km) as IBP route No. 9 & 10 in the Protocol will improve the connectivity of Tripura and adjoining States with India and Bangladesh’s economic centres and will help the hinterland of both the countries.
This route shall be connecting all the existing IBP routes from 1 to 8.
The operationalization of Rajshahi-Dhulian-Rajshahi Routes and their extension up to Aricha (270 km) will help the augmentation of infrastructure in Bangladesh as it would reduce the transportation cost of stone chips/aggregate to northern part of Bangladesh through this route.
It will also decongest Land Custom Stations on both sides.
Kolkata-Shilghat-Kolkata as well as Kolkata-Karimganj-Kolkata], Kolaghat in India have been added.
Kolkata-Karimganj-Kolkata and Karimganj-Shilghat-Karimganj have been extended up to Badarpur in India.
In these routes, Ghorasal in Bangladesh has also been added.
Ports of Call
Under the current Protocol, there are six Ports of Call each in India and Bangladesh.
Those are Kolkata, Haldia, Karimganj, Pandu, Shilghat and Dhubri on Indian side and Narayanganj, Khulna, Mongla, Sirajganj, Ashuganj and Pangaon on Bangladesh side.
The newly added five Ports of Call on Indian side are: Dhulian, Maia, Kolaghat, Sonamura and Jogigopha and on Bangladesh side are: Rajshahi, Sultanganj, Chilmari, Daudkandi and Bahadurabad.
Two more extended Ports of Call - Tribeli (Bandel) and Badarpur on Indian side and Ghorasal and Muktarpur on Bangladesh side – have been added through this addendum, increasing the number to eleven Ports of Call and two extended Ports of Call in both the countries.
Inclusion of Jogigopha in India and Bahadurabad in Bangladesh as a new Port of Call will provide connectivity to Meghalaya, Assam and Bhutan.
Jogigopha also becomes important, since, a Multimodal Logistics Park is proposed to be established there.
The new Ports of Call would enable the loading and unloading of cargo transported on the Indo Bangladesh Protocol Route and provide a stimulus to the economic development of the new locations and their hinterland.
Movement on shallow draft mechanized vessels
As a path-breaking development, both sides have agreed to introduce trade between Chilmari (Bangladesh) and Dhubri (India) through the use of shallow draft mechanized vessels, provided these are registered either under Inland Shipping Ordinance 1976 of Bangladesh or Inland Vessels Act, 1917 of India as per provisions of Article 1.3 of the Protocol and conform to safety requirements.
This initiative will allow export of stone chips and other Bhutanese and North East cargo to Bangladesh and easy access for the traders to the hinterland of Bangladesh, enhancing the local economy in Bangladesh and the lower Assam region of India.
New opportunities on cargo movement: Under this Protocol, Inland vessels of both the countries can ply the designated protocol route and dock at Ports of Call in each country, notified for loading/unloading of cargo.
There has been significant improvement in the movement of cargo vessels in an organized manner on the Protocol route carrying both the transit cargo to North East region of India and vice-versa and export-cargo to Bangladesh.
The Indian transit cargo is mainly coal, fly-ash, POL and ODC for power projects in North East region.
The other potential cargo for movement is fertilizers, cement, food grains, agricultural products, containerized cargo etc.
The export cargo from India to Bangladesh is mainly fly-ash which is to the tune of 30 lakh MT per annum. Around 638 inland vessels (including 600 Bangladeshi flag vessels) completed with approximately 4,000 loaded voyages annually.
It is expected that these additions to the Protocol will greatly facilitate the bilateral trade, with improved reliability and cost effectiveness for the business community and the people of both the countries.
The connectivity provided by the existing and the newly added protocol routes is all the more pertinent in the present Covis-19 scenario as it will be instrumental in providing economical, faster, safer and greener mode of transport for traders and business communities of both the countries and will also have environmental benefits for the region.