Sorry tale of a migrant worker


Reaz Ahmad


After languishing in a South Korean hospital for more than six months, Milon, a poor Bangladeshi migrant worker, finally came back home Tuesday night. And it was persistent media campaign and NGO activism by the Koreans, and not any effort by the Bangladesh mission in Seoul, that made his homecoming possible.

The sad saga of the "illegal immigrant" in his late-30s once again brought to the fore vulnerability of Bangladeshi workers abroad who remit more than ten thousand crore taka every year to keep the wheels of the economy moving.

Milon, who worked at a small guitar factory at Masan in Kyoungnam province, some 400 kilometres off Seoul, suffered from hypertension.

On April 3 this year, his friends found him in a coma. They informed the Kyoungnam Migrant Workers Counselling Centre (KMWCC), an NGO. The KMWCC rushed Milon to the East Masan Hospital, which became his home for the next six months. He was diagnosed of having cerebral haemorrhage and underwent surgery twice.

KMWCC Director Lee Choul Seoung accompanied Milon, father of three, on his way back home.

Lee told The Daily Star yesterday that because of huge media campaign and the overwhelming concerns expressed by the Koreans, the hospital authority totally waived the bill of 37,000 US dollars.

Milon returned home free of cost, courtesy the Korean Air that borne 7,750 US dollars in airfare, after failing to get any cooperation from the Bangladesh government, said Lee. Milon required seven seats on board the aircraft because he was carried in a sleeping position and required an aide to accompany him.

"For the last several months we got no cooperation from the Bangladesh embassy in Seoul. The KMWCC only requested to find out available Bangladeshi airline to carry him from Bangkok to Dhaka as the Korean Air operates only on the Seoul-Bangkok route. It is not acceptable that the Bangladesh embassy neglected such efforts made by Koreans and took no interest in protecting their own citizen," said Lee, whose organisation runs shelter homes and language teaching classes for migrants in South Korea. Milon, with left half of his body paralysed, is now at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).

Milon, eldest among five siblings who hails from a Munshiganj village, went to South Korea on February 18 last year and started working at a small factory as an 'undocumented' worker.

Official sources in Dhaka said that it has always been tricky for the government to recognise any of its national living abroad as 'undocumented' workers and therefore difficult to render any help through official channel.

Lee, however, questioned justification of such a policy when 'undocumented' workers outnumbered 'legal' workers in Korea. "There are some 220,000 illegal (undocumented) foreign workers in South Korea. Total strength of Bangladeshi migrants stands around 20,000, many of whom are undocumented too. But when it comes to question of life and death, how could a government remain so indifferent to its national just on the pretext of his or her legal status?"

In addition to free treatment for last six months and free air ticket, Lee yesterday handed over 2,287 US dollars in cash to Rehana Begum, Milon's wife, as a token of Korean people's love and sympathy to the poor Bangladeshi migrant.

Fund raising for his airfare and hospital expenses was done through various ways including media coverage starting from August 9 this year. Milon's case got wide coverage in Ohmynews (Internet news), Christian Broadcasting System (CBS), Munhwa Broadcasting Centre (MBC), Kyoungnam Newspaper, Domin Daily and many other Korean print and broadcast media.

Doctors in Korea said that Milon was first found in coma after some time he had his brain blood vessel damaged by high blood pressure. He had been in coma for three months after the surgery but slowly he has recovered.

He has regained consciousness but he cannot speak due to language hindrance - left half of his body is paralysed.

When this correspondent visited Milon at the DMCH yesterday, he could not utter any word. His wife, elderly mother and three children were all in a distress. They required government assistance to provide expensive treatment over a long period.

Milon's cousin, Pavel Ahmed, suspected that because of poor salary and because of his illegal status there, Milon could not treat himself with proper medication though he was suffering from high blood pressure for quite some time.

The Welfare Association of Repatriated Bangladeshi Employees (WARBE), a lead organisation for welfare of migrant workers, tried in vain to gain the government's assistance in terms of Biman Bangladesh's air ticket from Bangkok to Dhaka for Milon.

WARBE representative Syed Saiful Haque Asif regretted that because of the 'non-cooperative' attitude shown by the country's missions abroad, many migrant Bangladeshi workers suffered a lot while on foreign lands.

Both Asif and Lee pleaded for more governmental awareness to the causes of the migrant workers who fetch a huge remittance for their home country.

"Our hard-working labourers having reputation of utmost sincerity at workplace, never mind doing '3d' jobs (difficult, dirty and dangerous) abroad to help their country earn remittance. But it is a pity that our government remains oblivious about their welfare," noted Asif.

Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, October 21 ,  2001
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