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BANGLADESH-LIBYA: Garment Industry Pledges to Employ Evacuated Labourers

Naimul Haq

DHAKA, Mar 16 2011 (IPS) - Bangladesh’s garment factories and overseas recruiting agencies have pledged to employ a substantial number of Bangladeshi expatriates returning from politically volatile Libya, following the violent crackdown on opposition forces by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime there.

Garment worker at a Bangladesh factory. Credit: B A Sujan/Map/IPS

Garment worker at a Bangladesh factory. Credit: B A Sujan/Map/IPS

In its latest move to help evacuees form Libya, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Abdus Salam Murshedy told IPS the sector could possibly hire up to 50,000 of these returning workers.

“The idea of the proposed employment opportunities is to boost the morale of the repatriated returnees,” Murshedy said, stressing the need for skilled workers locally. “Based on their knowledge and category of work we can absorb them. However, those who have no skills we plan to train.”

At present, about 25 percent of machines in the factories are lying idle in the absence of skilled operators, Murshedy said.

BGMEA, which represents woven knit and sweater garment manufacturers and exporters, already employs some 3.5 million workers – mostly women. The ready-made garment sector brings in roughly 78 percent of Bangladesh’s annual foreign exchange.

Following the BGMEA announcement, Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) President Mohammad Abul Bashar said that during an emergency meeting a proposal was approved to employ the evacuees at various factories owned by the members of the association.

BAIRA was formed to protect the welfare of Bangladeshi migrant workers, as well as its approximately 1,100 member agencies.

“Many of our members own factories and mills. As part of our social responsibilities we have requested them to find jobs for the returnees,” Bashar told IPS.

BAIRA members are discussing not just jobs for the returnees, but also bank loans for returnees to start small businesses, Bashar said.

He also said that BAIRA is looking into prospects to send some returnees to Malaysia where he says there is a huge demand for migrant workers from Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the government is making efforts to form a database of all the evacuated people sent back from Libya. Upon arrival at the airports the returnees are required to give information about the nature of work they did, the company they worked for, and their home addresses.

“We are trying to form database information of all the returnees from that country,” Minister for Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain told IPS. “Only after completion of such data can we plan to offer them jobs.” The government is now providing each Bangladeshi evacuee about 14 dollars in cash, a food packet, and free transportation from the airport to the nearest bus-stand.

Meanwhile, Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry President Abul Kalam Azad said his organisation is creating a fund for the evacuees. But he did not mention when and how the money would be offered to them.

Mostafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a national policy advocacy and research organisation here, noted that 34 percent of those who had gone to work in Libya were poor. “Most of them borrowed money for going to Libya. So, they should be provided with loans with simple interest,” Rahman told IPS.

International Organisation for Migration (IOM) representative Asif Munir pointed out that 6,577 Bangladeshis were evacuated with the help of IOM between Mar. 1 and 10. He said that IOM expected over 19,000 more by Mar. 21.

At least 50,000 Bangladeshi nationals were working in Libya, according to government estimates. But BAIRA and other organisations say that the number is closer to 100,000 – most of them in the city of Benghazi.

Although international agencies like IOM and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are helping the migrants, according to reports by various Bangladeshi correspondents reporting from the Libya-Egypt border, thousands of Bangladeshis are now desperately looking for shelter and a way out to return home.

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