Agents fleece Bangladeshi migrants

Poor workers seeking employment abroad are left jobless and destitute.


    On the outskirts of Dhaka, adults and children pick
    through the city's biggest rubbish dump
    Millions of migrant workers from developing countries travel abroad each year to jobs they hope will bring money and security to their families, but many end their journey in prison, despair and financial ruin.

    Construction and manufacturing industries in the growing economies of the Middle East and Asia could not survive without the migrant workers who travel from some of the world's poorest countries.

    They often have to work long hours for little pay, enjoy few rights and often endure poor living conditions.

    But although human-rights groups have campaigned for years against the abuse of migrant workers, the would-be workers risk becoming the victims of scams, even before they arrive at their destination.

    Often the migrant workers pay thousands of dollars for a work visa and a job. Some arrive in a country, like Singapore or Malaysia, only to find that neither the visa nor the job they were promised exist.

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    One migrant worker in Singapore told Al Jazeera: "The agent promised that after payment my passport will be stamped. But he took my money and passport and ran away. I don't know where he is. I was afraid. I didn't have any money or anyone here. I just hid."

    The man is now an illegal immigrant in Singapore. He arrived three years ago after paying $6,000 for a work permit and a job in a shipyard. But he was a victim of a fraudulent agent.

    Under Singaporean law, if he is caught overstaying his visa, he will be liable for a prison sentence and may well be caned, which will leave him scarred for life.

    Dashed hopes

    Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries and Bangladeshis make up one of the largest groups of migrant workers.

    Every year three million of the country's citizen leave home to seek a living abroad, hoping to send money back to their families.

    On the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, adults and children pick through the city's biggest rubbish dump looking for food or anything they can re-sell.

    They all are easy prey for fraudulent agents.

    The scale of the country's poverty, and stories of those who are successfully working abroad, help explain why people so readily believe what the agents say. But once they have cheated their clients, the "agents" disappear.

    Rules flouted

    Parents of a cheated Bangladesh worker

    The government, which offers little in the way of protection to migrant workers, recommends that agents charge no more than $1,200 for a work permit and job.

    But in reality many agents charge two or three times that figure.

    Al Jazeera secretly filmed agents in Dhaka charging more than double the government's recommended fee.

    Though agents promised free food and accomodation at their new destinations, workers said they had to bear the expenses themselves. And what they earned was far below what was promised.

    One family interviewed by Al Jazeera took out loans and sold everything to send their son to work in Malaysia. But their son was a victim of a fraudulent agent.

    "He can't send money. He is not earning properly," said the boy's mother. "The agent said he would earn a lot of money. But the job was illegal and he has been in hiding for years."

    The family now lives in a squalid two-room apartment in Dakha.

    Their oldest daughter had to be married at the age of 15 because they could no longer afford to keep her.

    Many others sold land and possessions and took loans, but returned to Bangladesh empty handed.

    They all returned destitutes, having been promised good jobs by the agents.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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