By GEOFFREY BEW Published: 16th November 2007

EMBASSIES of some Asian countries are more concerned about the flow of remittances to their economies rather than the human rights of their citizens, according to rights activists in Bahrain.

The dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) made the claim in a report analysing the treatment of Bangladeshi migrants employed here.

"The issues faced by migrant workers are largely ignored by civil society both in sending and receiving countries," it said.

"A large number have sold property or other valuables in their home country in order to pay for their travel to the region.

"Because Bangladeshi workers cannot speak native's language they work in, they cannot seek help from the police or other government authorities and institutions in the receiving country.

"They are poor migrant workers whose main concern is to keep their job and continue to send money to their family at home and their plight is largely ignored by officials."

However, a Bangladesh Embassy spokesman last night described the suggestion as "baseless".

"I do not deny that there are some violations but these are everywhere and we trace these to every level," he said.

"We have a lawyer and we negotiate with sponsors and raise issues with the Labour Ministry and General Directorate of Nationality Passports and Residency."

The senior official also rejected claims that the embassy was not being forceful with the government on such issues.

Migrant Workers Protection Society action committee head Marietta Dias also rejected the comment about remittances.

The report called on Bangladeshi embassies in the Gulf to adopt tougher measures to help protect their citizens working in the region from abuse.

The report states people from the country often end up in Bahrain and other Gulf countries as victims of human trafficking and safe houses should be set up to look after abused workers.

It says the working and living conditions, wages and health and safety regulations often fall way below international standards and psychological, physical, verbal abuse lead migrant workers to run away or commit suicide. Some undocumented or runaway domestic workers also end up being forced into prostitution.

The report stated Bangladesh should blacklist rogue employers in Bahrain who mistreat their people and bring recruitment agencies and others responsible for rights violations to justice.

BCHR vice-president Nabeel Rajab presented the report to a workshop in Dhaka yesterday discussing how to enhance the social protection of Bangladeshi migrants.

The two-day event, at the Radisson Garden Hotel, was organised by the World Bank and Geneva-based International Organisation for Migrants.

The BCHR report found there are 74,000 Bangladeshi workers in Bahrain, including up to 4,000 women, meaning the country's migrants represent 10 per cent of the population.

It said many were brought to Bahrain on false promises of jobs with high salaries, but they were mainly employed in unskilled jobs such as the construction sector and manual labour. Bangladeshis also tend to work for the lowest wages of migrant workers from Asian countries, said the report.

It said large number of Bangladeshi workers in Bahrain were undocumented or illegal workers as a result of holding expired work permits or being runaway workers.

This, it said, left them vulnerable to maltreatment, abuse, and blackmail and leaving them unable to access aid and protection from government authorities, health service providers and the judicial system.

It recommended a maximum number of working hours for domestic workers should be set and implemented, workers should be encouraged to join labour unions and civil society groups and an inter-regional network of Arab and Asian organisations related to migrant workers established. geoff@gdn.com.bh

? Gulf Daily News