Some 154 more Thai nationals left Bangladesh for Bangkok on Saturday by a special flight.
The Royal Thai Embassy in Dhaka arranged the third repatriation flight of the Thai Lion Air, which departed from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at 11am, said the embassy.
The first repatriation flight was on April 17 with 35 Thais, and the second flight was on May 14 taking 197 Thais living in Bangladesh back to Thailand.
The embassy thanked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, Immigration of Bangladesh, Airport officials as well as the airline’s staff for facilitating the smooth departure of Thai nationals.
The Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Friday approved its financial statements and allocation of its 2019 net income in its first-ever virtual annual meeting held amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a press release, the approval came at the first stage of the 53rd annual meeting of the Board, or their designated representatives from 68 members of ADB.
Meanwhile, the second stage of the Annual Meeting is scheduled for September 18–21 in Incheon, Korea.
Governors, other senior government officials, members of the private sector, representatives of international organisations and civil society organisations, youth, academia, and the media will attend the Annual Meeting.
ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa in his remarks to the meeting, said, “Our immediate priority is to provide vital support to developing member countries as they confront the COVID‐19 pandemic and return their economies to a path of sustainable growth.”
The approval of the financial statements and allocation of net income ensure that ADB has the tools and financial stability to address the enormous challenges that now affect the lives and economies of millions of people across this region, he added.
“Our choices and efforts today will determine whether we can overcome the current health care and economic crises,” said the Chair of the Board of Governors, and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance of the Republic of Korea Hong Nam-Ki.
“The ADB should turn this crisis into an opportunity, while enhancing knowledge sharing on COVID-19 policy responses and expanding support for low-income countries and vulnerable groups,” he added.
The Board of Governors adopted a resolution to allocate $1.069 billion of net income, the highest in the bank’s history, from ADB's 2019 ordinary capital resources.
The 2019 net allocable income is higher than the $841.4 million recorded in 2018, due largely to an increase in income from lending operations and liquidity investments, as well as a drop in non-sovereign loan loss provisions.
The allocable net income will be distributed as follows: $615.7mn to the ordinary reserve to support ADB’s capital adequacy and provide an earnings base to generate net income; $259.5mn to the Asian Development Fund, which provides grants to ADB’s low-income member countries; $130mn to the Technical Assistance Special Fund, which provides a stable and predictable funding source for ADB’s technical assistance, as well as increased support to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic; $30mn to the Regional Cooperation and Integration Fund; $24mn to the Climate Change Fund; and $10mn to the Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund.
Governors also approved the bank’s annual financial statements. ADB’s ordinary capital resources’ operating income totaled $1.1bn in 2019, up from $889mn in 2018. The 2019 net income was $1.554bn, up from $750mn in 2018.
ADB is actively supporting its members as they address the effects of COVID-19 through its $20bn response package announced on April 13.
ADB has also approved a series of measures to streamline its operations for quicker and more flexible delivery of assistance.
A survey released by Bangladesh-based international development organization Brac on Friday reveals 87 percent of the country’s returnee migrants- amid the COVID-19 pandemic - are still struggling without any source of income in their changed circumstances.
More tellingly, 52 percent of the returnees said they need financial aid on an emergency basis, said Shariful Islam, head of Brac’s migration programme in a virtual meeting with journalists where the findings of a Brac survey titled ‘The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Life and Livelihoods of Returnee Migrants,’ were disclosed.
A third of the returnees, or 33 percent, said they can afford their living expenses for three months or a bit more, based on their present financial condition.
Survey methods and respondents
Brac, over mobile phone, conducted the survey among 558 immigrant workers, who have returned home from different countries.
Altogether a 20-member Brac team conducted the survey among the returnees from Dhaka, Tangail, Munshiganj, Shariatpur, Narsingdi, Sylhet, Sunamganj, Cumilla, Noakhali, Sirajganj, Rangpur, Khulna and Jashore districts.
Among the survey respondents, 45 percent immigrant workers returned from Saudi Arab, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait in the Middle East while the other 65 percent immigrant workers returned from Malaysia, Singapore, Itali, The Maldives and other countries.
However, among the survey attended, 86 percent returned home in March.
Returnees’ financial situation
According to Brac survey, 34 percent of the returnees said they have no savings at all, while 19 percent of them said they can afford two months’ living with the savings they have.
Among the total survey respondents, 33 percent said they can afford living three months and a bit more with their savings, while ten percent informed that they have had to borrow money already to meet the daily needs.
However, 14 percent of the survey respondents refrained from disclosing information about their savings.
What’s the plan of home returnees?
Among the home returnees, 84 percent confirmed that they have not yet planned for any livelihood while six percent of them said that they are planning to go abroad again, said Brac survey.
Rest of the ten percent of the survey attendants said they have been planning to get involved in agriculture-based small business, grocery shops or something else, Shariful Islam said.
Why did immigrant workers return home during COVID-19 pandemic?
Among the survey respondents, 40 percent said they were forced to come back home for coronavirus pandemic, 35 percent said they returned in holidays while 18 percent of them said they came home for family affairs.
Meanwhile, seven percent of the participants said their homecoming had no relation with COVID-29, the Brac survey reveals.
Did the returnees maintain 14-day home quarantine?
While asked about 14-day mandatory quarantine, 84 percent of the survey respondents said they maintained it accordingly, 14 percent said they could not maintain 14-day quarantine while two percent said they were in one-week quarantine.
According to Brac survey, 74 percent of returnees informed that they have been living in worry, mental pressure, and fear.
Shariful Islam told UNB that 12 Brac counselors have provided socio-mental services to the returnee immigrant workers.
How did their relatives greet them?
According to Brac survey, 29 percent of the attendants informed that their relatives, neighbours did not take it normally as well as show no attitudes of help.
Meanwhile, 97 of the returnees said their own families played role in helping them.
Did returnees get government help during pandemic?
The Brac survey reveals that 91 percent of the returnees got no government or private help.
The rest nine percent survey respondents said they received help government and private institutions but it’s very few.
Brac’s representative Shariful Islam said “Many people may return home after losing their jobs in the future and the government has announced easy loans for them.”
Government alone is not responsible to stand by returning immigrant workers, but non-government organisations should work in concerted way, Shariful added.
He also said that immigrant workers sent $109 crore worth TK 9,500 crore in the first 19 days of May for Eid-ul-Fitr.
Since January of this year, immigrant workers sent Tk 55,000 crore, said Shariful adding that it is crisis time to stand by the immigrant workers who have returned already as well as staying abroad right now.
Five recommendations by Brac to resolve the crisis:
· More Inclusive and supportive environment should be ensured for the returnees by the cumulative efforts of the government, civil society organizations, private sectors and local communities instead of stigmatization and discrimination which can negatively impact the ability of migrants to integrate into the society.
· Government should extend social protection coverage and safety net programmes either in the form of cash or in-kind goods and services to smooth consumption and prevent falls into the poverty.
· Sustainable reintegration programme including psycho-social support should be launched for the returnees assessing their short- and long-term vulnerabilities and making easily accessible customized loan products to upon return of expatriate workers for engaging them into the income generating activities
· Government should start negotiation with the destination countries, to stop forced return of the expatriate workers during the time of COVID-19; and through the diplomatic initiatives, visa and work permit of the returnees should be extended for them who are unable to fly back to workplace because of the travel restriction.
· Government should increase budget allocation for the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry to ensure the welfare of the migrants and their family members and emphasize their inclusion into the government programme and policies in responding to the shock of COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the cyclone Amphan badly affected coastal districts of Bangladesh, Bhasan Char Island remains unaffected amid concerns raised by the international community, says Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen.
"To some extent, we had fear too. But nothing happened there though there were questions that it will be flooded," he said on Friday from his residence.
He said there are two strong dams around Bhasan Char - first one is 10-12 feet while the second one is 33 feet.
"Nobody has a headache of over 16 crore people of Bangladesh but only concerned about 306 Rohingyas who were shifted to Bhasan Char and those who are in the camps," Dr Momen said, apparently expressing displeasure regarding some over-concerned diplomats.
In a stinging rebuke, Foreign Minister Momen said the opposition of foreign aid agencies to the government’s scheme of relocating the Rohingya refugee population to Bhasan Char is not in the interests of the distressed population.
More importantly, the Foreign Minister indicated the Rohingyas themselves stood to turn around their miserable camp existence in Bhasan Char, located in Hatiya upazila 37 miles from the coast.
"If Rohingyas go to Bhasan Char, they can do the same things there that they used to do in Rakhine State. They can do economic activities like fishing, cattle farming and agricultural activities," Dr Momen said, speaking from his residence.
He said Bhasan Char is a nice place that offers many ‘opportunities’ - something almost unheard of in the camps.
He said some 500 fishermen took shelter at Bhasan Char during cyclone Bulbul last time.
"It's a lovely resort-like place. It's a beautiful Island. There is fresh water lake. People from across the world would go there for pleasure trip if this Bhasan Char was located in Italy or USA," said the Foreign Minister.
Fortify Rights, an international NGO that advocates for Rohingyas’ rights, recently said Bangladesh authorities are currently holding in quarantine at least 300 Rohingyas on Bhasan Char.
“The government should do everything in its power to prevent an outbreak," said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Fortify Rights. “Bhasan Char is not a viable option for any COVID-19 response.”
Referring to his recent meeting with European Union Ambassador to Bangladesh Rensje Teerink, Dr Momen said he urged the Ambassador to take Rohingyas to their countries if they want to give them better life.
On May 20, Foreign Minister Dr Momen held a meeting through videoconferencing with Ambassadors of Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the European Union Delegation in Dhaka.
On the issue of the concern of COVID19 being spread in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, Dr Momen assured the Ambassadors that the Government is taking all necessary steps to ensure that the pandemic is contained, and there is minimal spread of COVID19 in the Rohingya camps.
The government of Bangladesh has developed Bhasan Char, an island that appeared in the Bay of Bengal just over a decade ago, to accommodate some 1,00,000 Rohingyas there initially.
Aid Agencies Unhappy
"Aid agencies are very unhappy. They cited communication problem," the Foreign Minister said, adding these agencies could in that case spend the funds to introduce the better communication and transport services they require. as they have no fund crisis.
The Foreign Minister said Rohingyas are living in very congested camps and they have to worry about landslides during rainy season. "If anybody dies, blame falls on our shoulder."
He said all countries and rights bodies look to Bangladesh whenever is a problem in the Andaman Sea or Indian Ocean (of stranded Rohingyas at sea).
"As if we have sheltered 1.1 million Rohingyas and we will have to give shelter to others, too," he said.
The Foreign Minister reiterated that Bangladesh has no space to accommodate more Rohingyas, and that other countries also have the responsibility to share the burden.
"Rohingya crisis is not our problem, it's a global problem. Those countries which always advise us can take Rohingyas. They have no space crisis," Dr Momen said.
Dr Momen assured that the Government would always protect the Rohingyas who have taken shelter in Bangladesh. In this regard, he stressed that providing shelter to Rohingyas was not the responsibility of Bangladesh alone.
Dr Momen called upon the Ambassadors to share the burden of providing better life and living for persecuted Rohingyas in their own countries or relocate and settle them in third countries.
He said almost three years have passed and although Myanmar agreed to take them back, not a single Rohingya went back home yet.
Dr Momen appealed to them to exert more pressure for their safe repatriation to Myanmar. The EU Ambassadors reiterated their appreciation for the humanitarian gesture by Bangladesh for the cause of the Rohingyas.
Dr. Momen reiterated that EU members are Bangladesh's long standing reliable development partners and if they have any issue, they are most welcome to share those with the government.
However, he reminded them that Bangladesh per capita income is around 2000 US dollars with a density of population around 1200 per sq. mile.
Bangladesh's situation is different to that of the EU where their per capita income is around 50,000 dollars and density of population is as low as 15 per sq. mile, Dr Momen said. "Therefore, one must be pragmatic."
On the issue of cell phone network in the Rohingya camps, Dr. Momen explained that the functionaries would be able to access the internet and 4G services from their offices and accommodations. For security reasons; to stop drug trafficking, to stop trafficking of women and children, provoking people to create lawlessness and to stop Blue films, the government has to downgrade 4G services in the Camp area.
However, they have 2G services which is enough for day to day communications. Moreover, for 4G facility, Rohingyas cannot afford to buy the Cell phone sets as these are 5 to 10 times more expensive vis-a-vis 2G cell phone sets.
Foreign Minister thanked the European countries for the support, and emphasised that it is important to ensure transparency and accountability of the aid activities carried out by the development partners.
They should disclose publicly their spending so that tax-payers know where their tax money is being spent, he said.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has conveyed the European Ambassadors stationed in Dhaka that freedom without responsibility may result in social chaos and indiscipline.
For example, he said, in the name of freedom of choice, no one is allowed to open assault rifle to kill people in a crowded mall or at a public school, neither one is allowed to incite or provoke people with fabricated stories to lawlessness.
He said the government always considers the freedom of press as an important tool for effective governance in a democratic society. "There’s complete freedom of speech and media," said the Foreign Minister.
Foreign Minister Dr Momen held a meeting through videoconferencing with the Ambassadors of Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the European Union Delegation in Dhaka on Wednesday and discussed the issue.
As the envoys raised the issue of freedom of press, the Foreign Minister agreed with them about the importance of ensuring freedom of press and freedom of expression.
He said there are nearly 33 private TV channels, hundreds of dailies plus a flood of online services which many countries even in Europe do not have.
COVID-19 in Rohingya Camps
On the issue of the concern of COVID-19 being spread in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, Dr Momen assured the Ambassadors that the government is taking all the necessary steps to ensure that the pandemic is contained, and there is minimal spread of COVID-19 in the Rohingya camps.
On the issue of cellphone network in the Rohingya camps, Dr Momen explained that the functionaries would be able to access the internet and 4G services from their offices and accommodations.
The government has to downgrade 4G services in the camp area for security reasons to stop drug trafficking, stop trafficking of women and children, provoking people to create lawlessness and stop blue films, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
They, however, have 2G services which is enough for day-to-day communications. Besides, for 4G facility, Rohingyas cannot afford to buy cellphone sets as these are 5-10 times more expensive vis-a-vis 2G cellphone sets.
He assured that the government would always protect the Rohingyas who have taken shelter in Bangladesh.
Dr Momen stressed that providing shelter to Rohingyas was not the responsibility of Bangladesh alone.
He called upon the Ambassadors to share the burden of providing better life and living for persecuted Rohingyas in their own countries or relocate and settle them in third countries.
Dr Momen said almost three years have passed and although Myanmar agreed to take them back, not a single Rohingya went back home yet.
He appealed to them to exert more pressure on Myanmar for their safe repatriation.
The EU Ambassadors reiterated their appreciation for the humanitarian gesture by Bangladesh for the cause of the Rohingyas.
Partnership with EU
Dr Momen reiterated that EU members are Bangladesh's longstanding reliable development partners and if they have any issue, they are most welcome to share those with the government.
He, however, reminded them that Bangladesh’s per capita income is around 2,000 US dollars with a density of population around 1200 per sq. mile.
"Our situation is different to that of the EU where their per capita income is around 50,000 dollars and density of population is as low as 15 per sq. mile. Therefore, one must be pragmatic," he said.
At the meeting, the Foreign Minister briefed the Ambassadors of the EU Member States about the steps taken by Bangladesh in addressing the challenges of COVID-9.
The Ambassadors appreciated the initiatives by the government to contain the pandemic, and offered helps of their countries in overcoming the challenge.
The Ambassadors informed that the EU would offer 334 million Euros to Bangladesh in the coming days, with 103 million or 1/3rd of that amount to be channeled through the Economic Relations Division of the Ministry of Finance.
The Foreign Minister thanked them for the support, and emphasised that it is important to ensure transparency and accountability of the aid activities carried out by the development partners.
He said the countries should disclose publicly their spending so that tax-payers know where their tax money is being spent.