Mahela Begum (38) returned from Greece to her native Sirajdhikhan sub-district in the Munshiganj district in 2018. Upon return, she and her family struggled to support themselves, with three children and only a low salary from her husband’s job as a carpenter.

As early as 2014 Mahela had wanted to migrate to Greece as a way of ensuring a better future for her young family, after hearing success stories from friends and relatives. She persuaded her husband it was the best thing for the family and connected with a local middleman to facilitate migration.

Maleha gave BDT 600,000 (EUR 6,200) to the middleman to arrange the trip to Greece. To secure that amount she sold her land and borrowed money from neighbours. The broker promised Mahela she would get a work permit in Greece easily, and would soon secure a decent job. After arriving in Greece in March 2016 she soon realized that the middleman’s promises had been dishonest, and that he had in fact secured her a work visa as a domestic worker.

She began working as a housemaid, but the salary was not enough to support her family. While she did look for other jobs, she was not able to secure any due to her visa status. She continued to work as a domestic worker - which was not the decent job she had been promised.

By 2017 Mahela’s mental and physical health was deteriorating as a result of her situation. However, her employer only provided very basics primary healthcare, which was insufficient for her. In early 2018, Mahela ran away from her employer's house and surrendered to Greek police.

On 6 March 2018 with the assistance of several Bangladeshis living in Greece, Mahela returned to Bangladesh empty-handed and with her dreams in tatters.

Upon return, her family's financial difficulties and the debt she still owed to her neighbors added to her distress. As a female returnee, she was not welcomed back to the community warmly – and this only compounded her physical and mental health concerns.

During this period a member of the Prottasha Migration Forum came to know about her and directed her to a Prottasha Field Organizer (FO) in Shirazdikhan. The FO screened Mahela’s situation, and a Tailored Reintegration Plan (TRP) was developed for her in March 2021. The TRP included psychosocial counselling, skills development training, and in-kind assistance. She was also provided with psychosocial support when she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety during the screening process.

Mahela selling products from the shop she was able to open with support from Prottasha. © Prottasha 2021

She felt a great sense of relief after discussing her experiences, emotions and thoughts with the psychosocial counsellor. She requested medical support from the project when her lever disease deteriorated.  Mahela received BDT 16,960 (EUR 175) for her medical treatment from the project.

The Reintegration Service Center (RSC) provided economic reintegration assistance. Through the Prottasha project she was provided with construction materials such as bricks, cement, rods, and sand worth BDT 85,000 (EUR 876) as in-kind support to help her build a grocery shop in her community. Mahela and her husband also received financial literacy and remittance management training to help them make the best use of their money. Now, she runs a shop in Munshiganj, earning roughly BDT 5,000 (EUR 52) per month. Mahela is optimistic about a better future. She says, "While no one understood me or my physical limitations, these incredible people from the Prottasha project came to my help. The Prottasha project has benefited me in numerous ways. My family and I are very appreciative of this support."

Additionally, she has a message to aspirant migrants,

"Please never rely on a dalal (middleman) while travelling to another country. Only use regular and legal migration channels. Prior to making a migration decision, make an effort to learn as much as possible about where you are going and the what jobs are available there."

The story is written by Md Sariful Islam, National Communications Officer, IOM Bangladesh.

SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities