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March 22, 24

NEWS / Death Certificate Dilemma: Bangladeshi Migrant Workers Return Home from Saudi Arabia in Coffins

Dhaka’s international airport witnessed a somber scene as ambulances maneuvered through the bustling cargo depot, unloading coffins bearing the bodies of 10 migrant workers returning from Saudi Arabia to their families in Bangladesh. Among the mourners stood Khadija Begum, whose husband Abdul Jalil Shaikh, a 35-year-old migrant worker, had left home full of aspirations but returned in a wooden box, burdened by debt and shrouded in mystery.

The only official document shedding light on Shaikh's demise was a death certificate, accompanied by a terse note from the Bangladeshi embassy in Saudi Arabia, taped to the coffin lid: “Cause of death: natural. Postmortem: not desired. Compensation: no.” This scant information leaves families like Begum's grappling with unanswered questions and financial woes. Despite hearsay from co-workers attributing Shaikh's death to a stroke, the absence of a postmortem examination leaves the truth concealed, and any hope for compensation from Saudi Arabia dashed.

Tragically, Shaikh is just one of half a million Bangladeshi migrant workers who embarked on a journey to Saudi Arabia in search of employment opportunities. However, for many, this journey becomes a one-way ticket home, draped in uncertainty and sorrow. The alarming frequency of deaths among Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia, coupled with the dubious classification of these deaths as "natural," underscores a systemic issue demanding urgent attention.

A recent investigation by The Guardian reveals a disturbing trend: a significant number of migrant worker deaths in Saudi Arabia are attributed to vague terms like “cardiac arrest” or “respiratory arrest,” signifying a lack of comprehensive investigations into the underlying causes. Human rights groups speculate that harsh working conditions, exploitation, stress, and heatstroke might contribute to this alarming mortality rate, painting a grim picture of exploitation and neglect.

Shariful Hasan, associate director of the migration program at Brac, aptly questions, as quoted by The Guardian, "They are fit when they leave, so why should they be dying?" His concerns are echoed by Amnesty International, which highlights the systemic abuses endured by migrant workers in Saudi Arabia under the sponsorship system, resembling "modern slavery."

As Saudi Arabia vies for the opportunity to host the 2034 World Cup, concerns about labor abuses and migrant worker deaths loom large. The prospect of hosting such a monumental event necessitates extensive infrastructural development, amplifying the demand for migrant laborers, predominantly from countries like Bangladesh.

While Saudi authorities assert their commitment to upholding workers' rights and ensuring transparent procedures, families like Rojina's, whose husband's cause of death remains shrouded in ambiguity, grapple with impending financial ruin. The plight of these families underscores the urgent need for accountability and transparency in the treatment of migrant workers, not just in Saudi Arabia but globally.

Amidst the grief and uncertainty, one sentiment prevails among the villagers: the pursuit of better opportunities abroad, despite the risks. As one mourner solemnly declares, "There is a risk, but there are good opportunities abroad and none here. We're all going to go."

As coffins continue to arrive, bearing the weight of shattered dreams and unanswered questions, the global community must confront the harsh realities faced by migrant workers and demand justice for those who have lost their lives in pursuit of a better future. Only then can we honor their memory and strive for a world where every worker is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality or socioeconomic status.



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