Covid-19 leaves Bangladeshis in limbo in KSA
With a sense of doom hanging over the world amid lethal Covid-19 crisis, Bangladeshi expatriates in Saudi Arabia are probably the hardest hit. The prime reason is that they are mainly blue-color labourers working in the cleaning and maintenance sectors that make them most vulnerable group to the fatal virus.
As a result, the number of deaths from Bangladeshi diaspora has accounted for around one-fourth of the total casualties so far even though over 10 million expats from more than 100 nationalities live and work in the Kingdom. According to the latest report from the Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh, over 600 Bangladeshis died of Covid-19 related complications in the Kingdom with more than 17,000 infected while the total death toll crossed a little more than 2,500.
What caused higher number of deaths of Bangladeshis on par with other countries here was probably their loathness to rush to the hospitals despite being contaminated. Many of the affected were illegals and they, naturally, did not saw doctors fearing arrests and subsequent deportation.
The nature of work of Bangladeshis has put them at risk. Suffice to say, over 90 per cent of an estimated two million Bangladeshis deployed in the Kingdom have been mostly employed in disposing of every day's household waste and in the maintenance of parks, beaches, roads, highways, government and private offices and tourist and entertainment centers.
Service of a majority of them particularly those who were engaged in scavenging and discharging of accumulated waste from outside the households was deemed as essential and they even worked during the lockdown enforced on and off all over the Kingdom during the past several months.
Another major factor cited is that Bangladeshi workers live in labour camps in bulk numbers. Several hundreds of them reside in a dormitory, with 10 to 12 persons packed in one room like sardines. Scores of them usually use one toilet, one basin and one bath facility. Given such condition, if one catches virus others naturally follow suit.
In addition to being highly infected and subsequently increasing number of deaths, many Bangladeshis have lost their jobs. They were generally working in small businesses and manufacturing factories which were closed for nearly two months and then opened recently. This situation forced the owners to shed their employees and workers in large numbers. A good number of them have their families here with children and they have nearly run out of money struggling to make their ends meet.
Some well-healed members of the Bangladeshi community viz Shawkat Kamal, Shahid Patwary, Mohsin Kabir, Dawood Patwary just to name a few known businessmen have come forward toward aiding their fellow citizens in the Kingdom's Eastern region of Dammam. They were seen giving away foodstuffs and other essentials to people in need.
Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh has been caring for Bangladeshis since the first Covid-19 case detected in the Kingdom on March 2. Initially, Bangladeshi expatriates who are mostly illiterate were unwary and unaware of the grave consequences of Covid-19 attacks and had a sense of invulnerability to the virus. After the launch of awareness campaigns by Bangladesh Embassy in labor camps and dormitories, they are now understandably educated about the safety criteria of the disease. In the way to conducting Covid-19 tests among Bangladeshis, Labor Consul at the Bangladesh Jeddah Mission got infected. A number of Riyadh Embassy employees were also contaminated, Embassy's First Secretary, Press Wing, Mohammed Fakrul Islam, confirmed this writer.
Bangladesh Embassy in tandem with other Bangladesh government agencies set up a call center in early May to cater online treatment and medical advice to the members of Bangladeshi community. Equipped with a strong group of 67 physicians working in the Kingdom, the center, Probash Bandhu Call Center, responds to calls from the general people from 9am to 9pm daily. Doctors at the center are available at Tel: 8809611999111, Imo: 01400611995-8.
Saudi Arabia has left no efforts unturned to keep the Covid-19 situation under control. The government has provided adequate medicare and adopted effective measures and initiatives to stem the transmission of the virus that resulted in the recuperation rate of patients so high.
With Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the entire world, Saudi economy has felt the pinch after oil prices have hit the rock bottom. But the economy now looks set to rebound once the crisis is over. To catalyze its moribund economy at the present time, Saudi Arabia needs to hire huge skilled foreign workers and Bangladesh needs to be prepared to avail itself of this opportunity.
The writer is a journalist
working in Saudi Arabia