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Our impact, their stories

Najma’s story: “Informed migration is safe migration”

Desperate to go abroad to work and escape poverty, Najma initially turned to a broker for help. But, what she learned at an ILO-funded training course made her realize she had been cheated.

Feature | Bangladesh | 30 September 2016
Ms Najma
DHAKA, Bangladesh (ILO News) – Love and marriage should have brought a bright new start for Najma, a 26-year old woman from the Narayanganj district of central Bangladesh.

She is the eldest of three daughters in a family that has struggled against poverty for as long as she could remember.

“My father works in a grocery shop and my mother is a housewife. Despite working very hard for the family, we were not able to make ends meet. Most of our childhood desires remained unmet because of poverty. Therefore, from an early age, I had a desire to support my family and improve our situation,” Najma said.

At just 14, she left school and took a job as a field worker. At 18, she fell in love with a local man and, after a five year courtship, they married.

But marriage gave her no escape from the complex problems of poverty.

“My mother-in-law didn’t accept me because my family was poor, and we did not have a house. She said she would only accept our marriage if my parents were to build a house. So I started working very hard and tried to save up money to enable my parents to build a house – but it’s not easy to build up any savings for a house working as a field worker for a low salary. Even after three years of marriage, I still could not go to my husband’s house, which was very frustrating for me.”

Then, the young woman thought she had found a way out. Najma had seen many of her neighbours and relatives go abroad and change their lives by becoming migrant workers. The extra money overseas work brought had allowed them to build houses, buy nice furniture and many other things. So she decided to follow their example.

She contacted a broker who promised to find her work in Qatar. He initially charged her BDT 30,000 (US$383), saying he would collect other fees later. Najma had some savings, and borrowed the rest of the money from relatives.

However, she soon became concerned. The broker made repeated promises about her impending visa and travel, but she could get no specifics on when she would go.

Then one day she was visited by a field worker from the Ovibashi Kormi Unnoyon Program (OKUP), which is supported by an ILO project funded by the United Kingdom (UK), the Fair Recruitment and Decent Work for Women Migrant Workers in South Asia and the Middle East initiative, known for short as the Work in Freedom (WIF) project.

Prepare migration properly

“Shapla Apa, a field worker from OKUP, came to our house and invited me to join OKUP’s pre-decision training, since I was a potential woman migrant. She talked about the risks and vulnerabilities of unsafe migration, and about the malpractices of many brokers. When the broker found out that I was going to attend the OKUP training, he tried to stop me but I didn’t listen to him and joined anyway.”

The two-day course was a turning point for Najma: “I had never heard about things like contract papers and recruiting agencies before, and I had never thought of analysing the cost and benefits of migration. I also didn’t know that the actual migration cost for women is so low, and that the Bangladesh government is sending women to Jordan and Saudi Arabia without any fees. I also was not aware of the actual cost of receiving a passport.”

Migration is helpful for poor women like me, but it should be safe and informed," Najma said.

Najma quickly applied her new knowledge: “Having attended the training, I understood my rights and asked the broker for my visa and contract. However, he refused to give me the papers. I asked many times until he finally stopped answering my phone calls. At that point, I understood that I had been deceived. Still, I feel I am lucky to have received the training and now know how to go abroad in a safe way. I could have been trafficked by middlemen or other harm could have come to me.”

Najma got her passport without any outside help. She plans to migrate to Saudi Arabia through the official government process.*

“I am very happy that I was able to acquire my own passport without the help of a broker and I only spent the actual charge (approx. US$45). I went to the passport office myself and submitted the passport form. There were many brokers outside who wanted to help me and asked for money. They said that if I submitted the application myself I would get the passport late and make mistakes. However, I did not listen to anyone. I did everything myself and got my passport on time.”

WIF, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), seeks to reduce the vulnerability to trafficking of women and girls in South Asian countries of origin (Bangladesh, India and Nepal) and in selected destination countries (India, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates).

“Informed migration is safe migration,” said ILO Country Director, Srinivas Reddy. “Pre-decision training for potential migrants helps them understand just what migration entails and to avoid being exploited.”

“Migration is helpful for poor women like me, but it should be safe and informed,” Najma said. “Many women are bringing positive changes to their lives through migration. Still, many potential women migrants do not have sufficient information.”

* Note: Najma found a job through official channels and is now working in Saudi Arabia.