During the conflict in Libya in February 2011, an estimated 40,000 Bangladeshis working in Libya were forced to return home. The conflict forced many to leave behind all their possessions and flee in heavy debt. Some arrived at the Libyan borders in trucks, some in buses or whatever mode of transport they could find. Many trudged through the desert carrying all their possessions on their backs, trying to avoid robbery and gunfire and having to scrounge for food. The majority of these workers are poor and many lost their possessions while fleeing. Stuck for days at border camps, unable to arrange or pay for their own transportation back home, many of them were not even sure where their next meal would come from. In late March 2011, the Government of Bangladesh requested World Bank help to support its efforts to bring these workers home and help them establish new livelihoods.
The project was the first by the World Bank to use fast track emergency procedures to finance costs associated with the repatriation and livelihood restoration of the Bangladeshi migrant workers who fled Libya.
The Government of Bangladesh, with the aid of IOM, carried out repatriation operations from the onset of the conflict. Under the project, IOM set up the basic administrative elements of a cash transfer system, including the design and implementation of a public information campaign, and a call center to facilitate the registration and verification of the migrant workers returning from Libya since end-February 2011. The call center operates from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, with 17 numbers available for the returnees to call and obtain appointments for in-person verification. Of those who are verified, a cash grant of BDT 50,000 (or around US$685) is transferred directly to their respective bank accounts.
Of the total returnees from Libya, 36,502 have been registered and 36,102 paid to date under the project. There are a remaining 400 pending cases that are being considered and settled through a government grievance committee.
At every step of the process, good governance and transparent delivery procedures have been given priority, along with the need to expedite the process and quickly disburse the much-needed cash grants. Returnees’ on-arrival support included greeting of the flights on the tarmac, assisting with the registration and immigration processing, and immediate medical attention. Returnees were provided food and water and BDT 1000 for onward transport and arrangements were made for shuttle bus services to the main bus and train terminals in the city.
A comprehensive database of all returnees was developed by IOM from the registration conducted by the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) at the airport. An extensive outreach campaign was launched to inform the returnees of the program and numbers for the call centre were disseminated through print and electronic media and direct SMS to returnees’ phone numbers. Each returnee was directed to call the centre in order to obtain an appointment for in-person verification with all their relevant documents. This was the last step in the exhaustive process of identification of actual returnees before the cash grant of BDT 50,000 was transferred directly to their accounts.
Of the World Bank’s US$40 million in support, US$12.6 million went towards retroactively financing the airfares for about 10,000 Bangladeshi returnees who were otherwise unable to pay for their travel home. Another US$26.5 million in World Bank financing went towards a one-time cash grant to help returning Bangladeshi workers meet immediate needs and a start toward restoring their livelihoods.
During the conflict in Libya, the Bank coordinated closely with the Government of Bangladesh, IOM, and the international donor community in order to identify immediate needs and financing gaps. The IDA credit financed the cost of airfare for 10,000 returnees, while the remaining costs, including assistance in the transit camps, were financed by IOM and other donors. The Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) under the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment served as the implementing agency and contracted directly with IOM to implement the repatriation and cash transfer activities on the ground.
Toward the Future
Overseas migration and remittances play an important role in poverty reduction by contributing to the country’s foreign exchange reserves and raising household consumption. While the BDT 50,000 cash grant provided under the project will help the returning workers meet immediate basic subsistence needs, it does not offer a longer term solution to problems facing migrant workers.
The World Bank, with the help of the Japanese Social Development Fund has made two grants available to pilot a medium-term program for poor unskilled workers who returned from Libya and other migrant workers to: (i) offer safe migration services, and (ii) to re-integrate returning migrants with the domestic economy. These grants will be implemented with the help of BRAC, a well-known local non-governmental organization (NGO) with a vast country network that works on migration services and implements a large training and microenterprise initiative for self-employment. Together the two grants from the Japan Social Development Fund will help pilot the mechanisms for a job intermediation system for poor unskilled workers in Bangladesh.