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Libyan crisis highlights Asian migrant plight

There are still about 100,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers sleeping at a camp set up a few kilometres from the Libya-Tunisia border
There are still about 100,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers sleeping at a camp set up a few kilometres from the Libya-Tunisia border (Kate Thomas/IRIN)

The explosion of violence in Libya has exposed the desperate and dangerous plight of Asian migrant workers as they scramble home to an uncertain future, say recent returnees and officials from Bangladesh and the Philippines, which together had 60,000 workers there.



Nearly one-tenth of the Philippines' 94 million people works overseas, sending back some US$19 billion in 2010 - 12 percent of GDP, according to the government.



On 8 March, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported 12,000 of the nearly 30,000 Filipino workers in Libya had left. Of those who fled, 4,200 were repatriated to the capital, Manila, mostly with the help of employers, said returnees and officials.



Many others remain trapped, with food, money and water running low, according to migrant workers' support groups.



"We have accomplished much, but there remains much to be done," said Foreign Under-Secretary Rafael Seguis. About $12 million has been set aside for repatriation efforts, which continue.



Daniel Gonzaga, a construction worker and father of two, said he and a group of Filipino workers hiked for nearly 20 hours across the desert to reach the Tunisian border, only to find a crush of humanity. Many were turned back because they left behind documents in the rush to escape.



"There was no one to help us. We were loitering, walking back and forth trying to figure out how to cross the borders. When we finally found someone to help us, we had to cross a 3m-high wall," Gonzaga told IRIN.















IRIN Photo

Migrants in Libya

Migrant workers from Ghana wait for emergency passports to be issued at a camp near the Libya-Tunisia border, before they can board flights home organized by IOM and the Ghanaian government

Migrant workers from Ghana wait for emergency passports to be issued at a camp near the Libya-Tunisia border, before they can board flights home organized by IOM and the Ghanaian government
Kate Thomas/IRIN
Migrant workers from Ghana wait for emergency passports to be issued at a camp near the Libya-Tunisia border, before they can board flights home organized by IOM and the Ghanaian government
http://www.irinnews.org/photo.aspx
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Migrant workers from Ghana wait for emergency passports to be issued at a camp near the Libya-Tunisia border, before they can board flights home organized by IOM and the Ghanaian government
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"It was chaos, but I am lucky to be alive. There are others still out there trying to find a way to get home. I am happy to be back, but now my family risks going hungry because I am unemployed," he said, adding that he still owed friends and relatives money he used to process his application papers to go to Libya.



The Labour Department said it had categorized skills of returnees, which will then be passed on to recruitment agencies. Minimum temporary cash assistance is available, but the focus is finding other work, it stressed.



Bangladesh



"I am alive. This is important to me now. It was a horrible experience," said Shah Muhammad Ripon, 30, who had been working for a Korean company in Libya for the past nine months.



"It cost me $3,768 [to get to Libya]. I sold my land and some other properties with the hope that I would earn a lot there. But I am empty-handed now," Ripon said. "I do not know how I will manage."



There were 27,000 Bangladeshi workers in Libya, according to the Overseas Employment Ministry, but recruitment agencies estimate 80,000.



About 500 to 550 Bangladeshi workers are returning every day, based on government estimates. Bereft of land and savings, most face a financial crisis, said Joynal Abedin, chairman of the local NGO, Bangladesh Migrants Foundation.



"It will have a very bad impact on our remittance earnings and overall economy," he added.



Overseas workers contributed almost $11 billion in both 2009 and 2010, 12 percent of the $90 billion GDP in 2009. Until recently, manpower was one of the country's main exports to the Middle East.



"The political turmoil in the Middle East will affect Bangladesh's manpower export to these countries," said Overseas Employment Minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain. "But we will continue exporting manpower to other countries. We are looking for new markets."



He added that the government was compiling a list of returnees. "If the situation improves in Libya, we will try to send them to Libya again or we will try to send them to other countries."



There are an estimated seven million workers overseas, or 5.6 percent of the 2009 population.



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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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