In February 2020, Merry Chowdhury, a resident of Boalkhali in Chattogram district, travelled to India to seek medical treatment for an eye condition. While she was receiving treatment, India closed its borders to curb the spread of COVID-19. She joined millions of migrants across the world who were unable to travel home once borders closed and countries imposed nationwide lockdowns. Once stranded, vulnerable migrants, including women and girls, people with medical conditions, elderly people, are at a higher risk of abuse, exploitation and neglect. Merry remained in India with no support for seven months before she was able to return to Bangladesh.
Initially, Merry only travelled to India with enough money to cover her treatment and after the borders closed, she struggled to meet the basic costs for medication, food and accommodation. Without family there to support her she really struggled and as soon as she was able, she travelled back through the Benapole border crossing point (BCP), Bangladesh’s busiest land BCP.
Her journey back to Bangladesh was long, she travelled on her own, and she used the only money she had to pay for her trip. Upon arrival at the BCP, she was provided some food items and a dignity kit by IOM staff working at the distribution point. By the time she reached there, she was visibly exhausted and weak from two days of travel. Merry was grateful for the food and water, as she was worn out from the journey. “I am tired and thirsty. I had little to eat and drink since I started the journey,” she told IOM staff. She was grateful to receive a dignity kit that consists of a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, hand sanitizer, and sanitary pads.
“I spent the last of my money to pay to get home and so I am left with nothing to buy food on the journey. I give my blessings to IOM for the food and support they have provided to me which will make travelling a little easier,” she continued.
The journey home for Merry and many other returning migrant women, is complicated by the lack of facilities for women en route. To address the need for hygiene items, IOM is distributing hygiene kits to vulnerable returning women and girls. Returning migrants are also provided with a food kit as many migrants have exhausted their savings while they were stranded across the border.
With support from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), IOM distributed food and dignity kits to returning migrants, many of whom had been stranded in India since March 2020. On 3 and 4 October 2020, a total of 137 beneficiaries received food support and 32 women and 7 girls received dignity kits from IOM staff at the distribution point at Benapole BCP.
Since March, IOM has supported the Government to build the capacity of Point of Entry (POE) authorities to identify, screen, and refer travellers with COVID-19 symptoms. IOM provides support at 20 of the 28 POEs in the country. Since October, IOM is also distributing food packages and hygiene kits to vulnerable migrants at some of the country’s busiest BCPs.