“I trusted my employer each time he reassured me about my wages and handed me a little money to meet my needs,” he said. “I came home with nothing.” In Bangladesh, returning migrants have on an average lost about 175,000 taka ($2,000), according to a study by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit. The charity, which based its figures on interviews with about 50 migrants, found most of the losses were unpaid wages. Many workers have also lost out on the end-of-service benefits that they typically receive in the Gulf, said Ryszard Cholewinski, senior migration specialist for Arab states with the International Labour Organization (ILO). “Workers that have been affected by the crisis and have lost their employment are leaving without payment of those contractual end of year benefits,” he said. “If you’ve been working in the Gulf for say 15 years, that’s a substantial sum.” Seeking justice S. Irudaya Rajan, a professor with the Centre for Development Studies, estimates up to 1 million South Asian migrant workers have headed home since April and expects many more will do so in the coming months as job losses mount. In 2017 the Gulf region was home to 23 million migrant workers, most of them Asians, according to the ILO. A petition filed in an Indian court by Lawyers Beyond Borders, a network of legal experts, said employers were taking advantage of mass repatriation programs to repatriate workers who had not been paid their dues. They sought legal remedy from the Indian government for all workers, asking for the claims and grievances of all repatriated Indian migrants to be documented. India said there were existing mechanisms to help migrants, including online complaint portals and legal aid at embassies, and on Monday the court asked workers to make use of these, calling for proper documentation and follow-up of complaints. But Kochery believes individual workers cannot fight alone. Instead, cases “have to be taken up collectively because workers have just one year to file these cases,” he said, citing labor laws that give workers up to 12 months. The Qatar government said its Wage Protection System obliges employers to pay all outstanding dues to employees who have left and are unable to return during the pandemic. Workers who have left the country can submit and follow up complaints electronically on the labor ministry’s website, it said in a statement, adding the ministry had resolved 91 percent of complaints lodged between March and August. Companies that violate the Wage Protection System face penalties including one month imprisonment, up to 6,000 Qatari riyal ($1,648) in fines, and a ban on issuing new work permits, the statement said. On Wednesday the penalties were increased to fines of up to QAR10,000 and up to a year in jail. Neither Oman nor the United Arab Emirates responded to requests for comment. The Saudi government said workers can log violations through its online dispute settlement platform or, if that fails, take their case to a labor court. /

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