DHAKA: Almost 5,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers are expected to leave Kuwait next week, officials said Tuesday, as the coronavirus lockdown in the Gulf nation has crippled their ability to earn a living.
Discussions have been taking place with Kuwaiti authorities for the past two weeks to start the repatriation process as soon as possible, Bangladesh’s Ambassador to Kuwait S.M. Abul Kalam said.
“We are expecting to receive the approved list of migrants very soon and hope to start the repatriation from next week,” he told Arab News.
Two flights will operate each week to return 600 Bangladeshi migrants home and Kuwait will bear the flight operation expenses for the workers, Kalam added.
It follows a decision by the Kuwaiti government to declare a general amnesty for all undocumented migrant workers, with those accepting the offer to be allowed re-entry into the country after being repatriated.
Nearly 5,000 workers signed up for the program in the second week of April and were subsequently housed in four labor camps on the outskirts of the city.
But there were protests on Sunday night after two workers died at two separate camps in the area, with workers from other South Asian countries joining the demonstrations to demand early repatriation, food, and healthcare facilities.
Kalam said there could have been a shortage of food and essential supplies, as a lot of workers had been housed in the camps under emergency circumstances.
“The embassy intervenes immediately whenever it receives any such information,” he said. Another issue was to limit the spread of coronavirus among the workers, he added, so all passengers would be tested before their flight and issued health certificates.
But a top official from the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry said that the timing of the repatriation was nothing unusual and that it happened throughout the year.
“Sometimes our migrant workers return, and they go back again in due course,” the official, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News.
But the official said that this time, due to the ongoing health emergency, it had created “extra concern” for everyone and that Bangladesh was “facing some pressure” to repatriate undocumented migrants from other countries too.
“It’s a concern for Bangladesh authorities to ensure institutional quarantine at a time for a large number of people. So, we prefer to do it phase by phase.”
Workers with a COVID-19 clearance certificate would be sent for “home quarantine” once they landed in Bangladesh, he added, and others would be moved to an institutional quarantine facility.
There are 350,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers in Kuwait, according to embassy data.
Kuwaiti officials in Dhaka could not be reached for comment when contacted by Arab News on Tuesday.