Where are Europe’s illegal migrants coming from? Surprise: It’s Bangladesh.

Credit: washingtonpost.com

Where are Europe’s illegal migrants coming from? Surprise: It's Bangladesh.

What country are most of Europe’s illegal migrants coming from? You might think Syria or some other war-torn nation. You would be wrong. According to the International Organization for Migration, the top “sending” country is a democracy that claims to have made strides in human development: Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi migrants are paying between $8,000 and $9,000 just to get to Libya, and an additional $700 for an uncertain passage across the Mediterranean to Italy.

The vast majority are looking for work — and migrant work has always been risky. Thousands of Bangladeshi workers have died  working in Middle Eastern countries. More than 8,000 bodies were returned to Bangladesh from 2004 to 2009, out of roughly 3.7 million Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain  and Oman in 2009. Employers often subject workers to inhumane working conditions and hold them hostage by confiscating their passports.

These migrant workers are trapped in foreign countries, unable to return home.

If it’s dangerous, why do so many Bangladeshis migrate?

For many Bangladeshis, migration is one of the few paths to upward mobility. Although the country has reduced poverty from 44.2 percent in 1991 to 18.5 percent in 2010, that’s still a lot of people. What’s more, the nation faces massive structural challenges: a large population of 164.8 million, of which roughly 34 percent live  in urban centers; floodwaters, rising sea levels  and encroaching salt water pushing people out of coastal areas and into densely populated cities; and a high graduate unemployment rate.

With the job market saturated, many young men and women seek employment abroad. Fully 5.5 percent of Bangladesh’s population is international migrant workers. Four out of their top five destinations are in the Middle East — Oman, Qatar, UAE  and Bahrain. Harsh working conditions have now pushed their movement to Europe, and in particular, Italy. In Rome, Bangladeshis run mini-marts and work as street vendors, and have established themselves in local communities. They even run their own community organizations.

According to the World Bank, those migrants send home billions of U.S. dollars, a large boost to the country’s economic development at home.

Bangladesh has a long history of migration. After independence in 1971, rising domestic unemployment and the gulf’s need for oil field workers prompted mass migration to Middle Eastern countries. Working in Saudi Arabia or Dubai became many a young person’s dream. These stints — often on temporary contracts — created a path to higher economic and social status. Because families of migrants tended to be wealthier, migrant work was seen as a marker of success.

Migrant recruitment — particularly of poor and unskilled workers — grew into a massive industry riddled with illegal and violent practices. Recruiters form a vast network within and between the sending and receiving countries and charge high fees for their services. The cost of going to work in the Middle East is 4.5 times higher in Bangladesh than in the Philippines or Sri Lanka, and in Bangladesh, almost 60 percent of the money goes to intermediaries, 18 percent to helpers, and an additional  10 percent to recruitment agencies.

The Middle East is becoming a less attractive destination

Saudi Arabia is no longer taking Bangladeshi workers in great numbers. Although the country lifted a six-year ban on Bangladeshi workers in 2016, this is unlikely to increase recruitment because falling oil prices have left tens of thousands of workers — mainly Indians — unemployed and starving there. Others are returning from conflict-ridden Middle Eastern countries. More than 36,000 workers returned from Libya alone since the uprising against Moammar Gaddafi began in 2011. A variety of human rights organizations have called attention to worker exploitation and abuse.

And so, since the fall of  Gaddafi, Libya has become the gateway to Europe for many countries’ refugees and migrants willing to risk the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean — including 2,800 Bangladeshis who arrived in Italy this year.

Illegal migration to Europe is not new for Bangladeshis. In 2015, the Libyan government banned the entry of Bangladeshi workers, claiming that many were trying to travel to Europe. Others who had traveled to Europe illegally were sent back to Bangladesh. But Libya’s fragile political situation may have opened up new trafficking opportunities across the Mediterranean. More and more Bangladeshis are now attempting this passage.

The Bangladeshi job market remains dire

At home, political and economic crises are motivating young people to migrate. Bangladesh has one of the highest unemployment rates in South Asia, despite steady economic growth, unemployment likely fueled by high inflation and increasing population. A World Bank report estimated that in 2013, about 41 percent of Bangladeshi youths were not employed or in education or training, and the portion of young unemployed people was 78 percent.

Skilled workers can only get government jobs if they have a patron; private companies often hire only students from elite universities. And higher education itself can be corrupt, with students often unable to get into schools and universities without bribes or political connections.

Unskilled workers tend to work on temporary contracts in agriculture, transportation or construction in the cities. Most come from the villages. While nongovernmental organizations have entered the rural scenes with scores of development programs targeting women, they leave the men behind. Political violence, lawlessness  and crackdowns on the opposition make life all the more uncertain.

What's more, Bangladesh’s once-booming ready-made garment industry — which has contributed significantly to economic growth and employment — has seen retailers pulling out because of dangerous working conditions and political violence. In 2013, 1,137 people died when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed. Bangladesh’s factories have yet to comply with the renovations that global retailers demanded after that. Recently, five big clothing brands have pulled out of a major garment industry summit after hundreds of workers were dismissed over demands for better pay. With the garment industry suffering, thousands of workers are looking for other jobs.

And so thousands are trying to get to Europe

More than 1,000 migrants have died this year in the passage from Libya to Italy. They are not only trying to escape conflict and persecution but also risking their lives and savings to flee poverty and economic desperation. Whether European countries will welcome them remains to be seen.

Nayma Qayum is an assistant professor in Asian studies at Manhattanville College. Find her on twitter @naymaqayum.

Popular Science

Top Stories

Google Doodle Honors American Indian Activist Richard Oakes

He led the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969
  • 5 days ago
  • 106

Family Looking for Man Who Saved Dog from American River

FAIR OAKS — Chuck the pit bull mix is actually well trained. Mom and daughter, Bing and Theresa Simard, have made sure of that. Which is why they didn’t see what happened Sunday coming. “It happened pretty quick. I didn’t realize he was going to go for it,” Theresa Simard said. Bing and Theresa were walking along the Sunrise boat launch, and everything was going fine, until all of a sudden Chuck spotted some ducks. “I could not hold it anymore, […]
  • 5 days ago
  • 44

Caltrans: Tanker Truck Explosion near Highway 99 in Atwater, Roads Closed

ATWATER — Fire crews are on the scene of a possible Tanker explosion in Atwater near Highway 99. Southbound Highway 99 is closed at Westside Boulevard due to the tanker fire at Applegate Road. Caltrans says to expect delays in the area. There is no estimated time for the roads to reopen. Massive fire in Atwater CA pic.twitter.com/wfVvWBNCa6 — Greg Pina Colada (@pina250) May 23, 2017
  • 4 days ago
  • 22

Justice League Director Zack Snyder Steps Down From Film After Daughter’s Suicide

Joss Whedon will step in while Snyder focuses on his family
  • 5 days ago
  • 20

Northbound Watt Avenue Closed at Arden after Car Hits Woman, 2 Kids

SACRAMENTO — A woman and two kids were hit by a car along Watt Avenue near Arden Way. It was not immediately known if the woman and children were in a crosswalk or what caused the crash. Northbound Watt Avenue was closed as police investigate. The conditions of the people hit were not immediately known.
  • 2 days ago
  • 20

Are You Looking for More?
Check this out ...


Latest in Regions

White House Refuses to Address Reports That Jared Kushner Wanted Secret Line With Russia

(TAORMINA, Sicily) — President Donald Trump’s top advisers are refusing to address reports that his son-in-law and a top Russian diplomat may have discussed setting up a secret communications channel. In a press conference in Sicily, Saturday, advisers H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn declined to comment on new revelations about Jared Kushner’s communications with Russia’s…
  • 35 minutes ago

Suicide Car Bomb Kills at Least 18 in Afghanistan

The bomber was targeting a convoy of provincial security forces
  • 35 minutes ago

Authorities impose curfew in Valley amid tension over killing of Hizbul commander Sabzar Ahmad Bhat

A curfew will be imposed in seven police station areas of the city tomorrow as a pre-emptive measure to prevent spread of violent protests which took place today.
  • 36 minutes ago

Slaughter animals to be bought from farms: Centre

The ministry further said that the prime focus of the regulation is to protect the animals from cruelty and not to regulate the existing trade in cattle for slaughter houses.
  • 36 minutes ago

Separatists call for bandh after protests in Valley over killing of Sabzar Ahmad Bhat

The separatists also called for a march to Tral, in south Kashmir's Pulwama district, on May 30 to pay tributes to Bhat and seven other militants killed in two separate encounters.
  • 37 minutes ago

Cattle slaughter ban not enforceable in Northeast where killing for meat is part of culture

Police and forest officials said that apart from the fact that slaughtering of animals has been a tribal tradition for generations in the region, there is skeletal staff to enforce the new rules.
  • 37 minutes ago

Consensus can be worked out if Pawar opts to be NDA's Prez candidate: Athawale

Athawale's comment comes against the backdrop of Pawar's name being earlier discussed by the opposition camp for Presidential post.
  • 37 minutes ago

Trump adviser: ‘I would not be concerned’ about a Russia back-channel, irrespective of Kushner

TAORMINA, Italy -- President Trump's National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Saturday he "would not be concerned" about having a back-channel communications system with Russia, though he and other top White House officials refused to comment specifically on the growing controversy surrounding Jared Kushner. A news conference here at the conclusion of Trump's maiden foreign trip was overtaken […]
  • 39 minutes ago

Philippine Military Launches Airstrikes to End ISIS-Linked Siege of Marawi

(MARAWI, Philippines) — Philippine fighter aircraft unleashed rocket fire against militants on Saturday, prompting villagers to hoist white flags to avoid being targeted as the military turned to airstrikes to try to end the siege of a southern city by Islamic State group-allied militants. The predominantly Muslim city of Marawi, home to some 200,000 people,…
  • 2 hours ago

Suspect in Fatal Police Shooting Arrested After Manhunt

(RICHMOND, Va.) — Authorities say a suspect is in custody following a manhunt in the fatal shooting of a Virginia state police special agent. State Police officials say the trooper was shot shortly after 7:30 p.m. Friday while approaching a vehicle parked on the wrong side of the street. Officials tell The Richmond Times-Dispatch that…
  • 2 hours ago

Man Shouting Hate Speech Fatally Stabs 2 on Train in Portland

"They were attacked viciously," a police spokesperson said
  • 2 hours ago