Over 3,000 Bangladeshi expatriate workers have been stranded at home for several months as they cannot fly to Kuwait to rejoin work due to suspension of air communications between the two countries amid the pandemic.
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All the expatriates, who came home on vacation early this year, had confirmed return air tickets, but they are now stuck at home. They are facing uncertainty and financial hardship as they have no income for months.
Take for example the case of Selim Ahmed.
A construction worker in Kuwait for more than two decades, the 48-year-old man came home on February 28 on a three-month holiday. He had a June 4 return ticket of Biman Bangladesh Airlines.
Selim, who hails from Sylhet, contacted the Bangladesh embassy in Kuwait last month to know about the availability of flights, but the embassy could not confirm when the air communications would be restored.
In the mean time, his visa expired on October 9.
“I have never faced such a difficult situation during my long working life abroad. I need to return to work to support my family,” said the expatriate worker, who used to earn about Tk 40,000 a month in Kuwait.
Selim said his employer assured him of renewing his visa before he could fly back to Kuwait.
The oil-rich Gulf country had long been a major labour-exporting destination for Bangladesh. However, the number of new recruits from Bangladesh declined sharply in the last few years.
Some 6.30 lakh Bangladeshis have been employed in Kuwait for over four decades since 1976, according to data of Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).
Around 3.5 lakh Bangladeshis are currently employed in different sectors in the Gulf country, said sources at the Bangladesh embassy in Kuwait.
Only 1,743 Bangladeshi workers could land jobs in Kuwait this year before the pandemic hit the world, down from 12,299 last year. The figure was 49,604 in 2017, said BMET.
Bangladeshi migrants in Kuwait remitted about $1.5 billion last year.
Kuwait on March 13 suspended all international flights to check the spread of the novel coronavirus. It is yet to resume the services on many international routes.
Monsur Ahmed Kalam, president of Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB), said some 3,000 to 3,500 passengers were still waiting to return to Kuwait.
These passengers could not fly back due to suspension of air communications, he told this newspaper recently.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen during his visit to Kuwait last month requested the Gulf country to resume flights on Dhaka-Kuwait route to enable stranded Bangladeshi migrants to return to work.
He made the request during a meeting with his Kuwaiti counterpart Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on October 5, according to media reports.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Biman Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Mokabbir Hossain said Biman was ready to operate regular flights on this route, but it was yet to receive permission from the Kuwaiti authorities in this regard.
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