Ongoing COVID-19 pandemic induced crisis intensified the mental stress of Abul Hasan (pseudo name), a European returnee migrant, who had been facing fears of social stigma and anxiety. After receiving tele-counseling from Prottasha, now, he is not only aware of the crisis, but also able to manage his mental stress. He is now hopeful of leading a healthy life even during the unprecedented restrictions on mobility in the country.

Mr. Hasan (42) returned from Italy on 13 March 2020 to his parents’ home in Senbag, Noakhali. Since his childhood, he found his family gradually falling into deep financial struggles. To fight back, upon completion of his degree and being unemployed for two years, he decided to go abroad with the hope of bringing positive changes and financial stability into his family. He sold his land, borrowed money from relatives, and paid BDT 3,000,000 (USD 35,000) to a middleman. He left for Qatar in 2002. He was employed in a company where he worked for more than 4 months without getting paid. However, he had no choice but to leave that company.

Mr. Abu Sayed, a counselor of Noakhali RSC, is providing emergency tele-counseling to the returnee migrant.

Later, he joined a different company but faced the same problems. Struggling to get paid for a long period, Mr. Hasan met a foreign middleman or broker who allured him with the promise of sending him to Italy at the cost of BDT 2,000,000 (USD 23,500). Hasan again borrowed money from his family and friends to manage the amount. He left for Italy from Qatar by crossing a challenging route via Dubai, Russia, and Ukraine. On his way to Dubai, he was wounded. The broker demanded BDT 2,000,000 more. Accumulating more debt from family, Hasan paid the amount and went to Russia. There, he was imprisoned for one month as he did not have the necessary legal documents. With him. In December 2002, he was arrested by the police when he reached Ukraine. The police provided him with immediate services that he required and took him to a refugee camp where he stayed for another month before illegally migrating to Italy.

In Italy, he was assisted by the local Bangladeshi Association of Italy to start a hawkery business. He was again arrested there and was imprisoned for six months. Following his subsequent release, he worked in several shops and supermarkets from 2012 to November 2019. In December 2019, he travelled to Bangladesh on vacation and returned to Italy during the first week of March 2020. But, due to the complexities associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to come back to Bangladesh on 13 March 2020.

Upon receiving his contact details from the District officials, the Prottasha project’s counselor contacted him over the phone and assessed his needs considering that he has now returned and is looking to reintegrate into Bangladesh society. The counselor’s empathetic approaches and non-judgmental attitude helped Mr. Hasan talk about his experiences and seek assistance. The Reintegration Service Center (RSC) counselor developed a plan to provide tele-counseling services to him using a short manual developed under the project. He was given psychological support such as breathing relaxation exercise to get immediate help during mild to moderate levels of anxiousness. The counselor suggested some techniques to adapt to the lockdown situation including relaxation activities and spending quality time with his family. Safety messages about COVID-19 were provided to him so that he could be aware of the virus and help in sharing the messages to his family and the community. Mr. Hasan felt relieved and more comfortable after receiving getting emergency tele-counseling support.

SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities