Bangladeshis in Malaysia: Uncertainty grips 28,000

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - Due to high air fare, these illegal migrants may not make it home by Dec 31 amnesty deadline.

About 28,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia are still facing uncertainty over returning home within the December 31 amnesty deadline due to the high price of air tickets and a shortage of flights, said sources at the expatriates’ welfare ministry.

The Malaysian government offered the amnesty under its “back for good (B4G)” programme to repatriate illegal foreigners from August 1, according to the Malaysian Immigration Department.

Amid this, the government last night decided to give a subsidy of Tk 10,000 per ticket of Biman Bangladesh Airlines on Kuala Lumpur-Dhaka flight to bring back migrant workers registered under the B4G programme, said a top official of the Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry.

With the subsidy, now a migrant worker will have to pay Tk 23,000 per ticket to reach Dhaka from Kuala Lumpur.

Taking advantage of the high demand for tickets from migrant workers who want to return home, different airlines operating on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur route suddenly increased their airfares four to five times than the usual price in recent months.

The regular fare for a one-way ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Dhaka is around Tk 10,000-15,000, which shot up to around Tk 50,000-60,000, said sources at different airlines.

Additional Secretary of Expatriates’ Welfare Ministry Dr Ahmed Munirus Saleheen said they were looking for how they can assist the migrant workers to ease the process of their return.

Speaking to The Daily Star over phone yesterday, Saleheen said the ministry has already discussed the issue of high airfare with the ministry concerned and requested them to reduce the price of tickets.

According to a top official of the expatriates’ welfare ministry, some 33,000 undocumented Bangladeshi migrant workers have returned under the B4G programme from Malaysia as of yesterday.

Around 28,000 more were expected to take the benefit of the amnesty, he said, wishing anonymity.

In a bid to tackle the crisis, Biman Bangladesh Airlines will operate 16 additional flights only for migrant workers on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur-Dhaka route from December 12 to December 31. The national airliner recently made the decision as per instructions from the civil aviation ministry.

The additional flights would carry about 3,400 passengers from Kuala Lumpur.

Earlier on December 2, the expatriates’ welfare ministry requested the civil aviation ministry to operate additional flights on the route to bring home Bangladeshi workers from Malaysia.

A total of six airlines operate 58 flights a week on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur route. Of them, Biman and Malaysian Airlines operate 14 flights each, Malindo 13, US-Bangla and Air Asia seven each and Regent Airways three.

Altogether, the flights can carry around 9,000 passengers.

Private carrier US-Bangla Airlines will operate three additional flights on December 16, 18 and 20 on the route to meet the growing demand of passengers, said its General Manager (public relations) Kamrul Islam.

Kamrul said they had already sold all their tickets for the Dhaka-bound flights for December, including those of the additional flights.

Airlines sources said tickets for Dhaka-bound flights of all six airlines up to December 18 have already been sold out.

Civil aviation ministry Joint Secretary Zanendra Nath Sarker yesterday told The Daily Star that if the expatriates’ ministry requests, they will ask Biman authorities to operate more flights on the route.

However, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Biman Bangladesh Airlines Mokabbir Hossain said it is not possible for them to operate more flights on this route at the moment, as it will hamper operations on other routes.

Some 10.56 lakh Bangladeshi migrant workers have been sent to Malaysia since 1978, says data by Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training.

The B4G initiative was taken by the Malaysian government to give an opportunity to illegal immigrants, who overstayed or those who stayed without a valid pass or permit, to return home voluntarily with minimum penalty, according to the Malaysian Immigration Department.

A migrant worker can take part in the programme upon registration and paying RM700 (around Tk 14,000).

Upon refusal to take part in the programme, a migrant worker will have to face action like imprisonment and fines.

Those who take part in the programme and return home will be eligible for jobs in Malaysia after one year, said Additional Secretary Saleheen of the expatriates’ welfare ministry.

The south-eastern country suspended labour recruitment from Bangladesh on September 1 last year, alleging monopoly by a syndicate of 10 recruiting agents and high cost of migration.

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