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Vaccinate outbound migrant workers on a priority basis

by Khan Helal

Recruiting agencies yesterday urged the government to take immediate step to vaccinate migrant workers with Covid-19 vaccine on a priority basis, demanding at least 1,00,000 doses to mitigate a rising crisis.

There are about 50,000 new and old migrant workers waiting to fly abroad at present. They need to be inoculated to have a safe journey, leaders of the agencies told a press conference at the capital’s Dhaka Reporters Unity.

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The press conference was held under the banner of ‘Sammilita Samannay Parishad’, an electoral alliance of members of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira).

They said a non-vaccinated migrant worker travelling to Saudi Arabia now requires to spend about Tk 70,000 to Tk 80,000 as hotel quarantine fee in the Kingdom.

Moreover, different airlines set their ticket price “too high”, which added to the financial burden of workers, they further said, seeking the prime minister’s intervention to bring down ticket price to a “tolerable level” and for immediate arrangement of vaccination.

In a travel advisory issued last month, Saudi Arabia asked passengers from non-restricted countries including Bangladesh to be vaccinated, to avoid a seven-day institutional quarantine there.

Later, Bangladesh government decided to pay Tk 25,000 as subsidy to the quarantine fee for each migrant worker.

Addressing the press conference, Abul Bashar, a leader of the alliance and former president of Baira, said if migrant workers are brought under the vaccination process it will support the sector immensely.

Remittance sent by migrant workers have a huge contribution to boost the country’s foreign exchange reserves, he said.

However, most workers have to sell their property to arrange migration cost, he added.

Now, an additional burden to bear quarantine fee has been imposed on them which is like “pouring water on a drowned mouse”, he further said, adding vaccinating migrant workers will help save roughly Tk 375 crore.

He urged the government to immediately arrange at least 1,00,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine for migrant workers from its own reserve or any other source.

If required, Bangladesh government through the foreign ministry can approach to the Saudi government to have the doses since Bangladeshi workers are employed for Saudi Arabia’s development, he said.

At present, Bangladesh is sending workers only to Saudi Arabia as other overseas job markets have mostly remained closed amid the pandemic, said Shahadat Hossain, a member of the alliance.

At present, about 30,000 to 40,000 migrant workers are waiting for flights to Saudi Arabia, he added.

He said increased ticket price made it difficult for recruiting agencies to bear the cost. Indirectly, the burden falls on the shoulders of migrant workers.

Earlier, the government announced about 1.20 lakh doses of Covid-19 vaccines for migrant workers but those could not be used. One reason was the age limit of above 40, said Fakhrul Islam, another member of the alliance.

Most migrant workers intend to go abroad are aged between 21 and 40, he said, stressing for bringing a change to the age limit for vaccinating migrant workers.

Fakhrul also said Saudi Arabia’s requirement does not include Chinese vaccine while Bangladesh has about six lakh doses of such vaccine at its reserve at present.

If necessary, Bangladesh can negotiate the matter with Saudi Arabia, he added.

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