Covid-19 Fallout: Hundreds of migrant workers inch towards starvation in Faridpur

They came all the way from the north to find jobs to earn a livelihood. But due to the ongoing lockdown, they now hardly find any work. Without any money to even buy food, they now cannot afford to go home either.

About 1,200 migrant agricultural workers — from at least ten different northern districts — are now living under inhumane conditions on the streets of Faridpur town after they got stuck due to the nationwide lockdown.

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Every year, especially during the monsoon season, they come to one of the region’s largest farm worker marketplaces, locally known as ‘Jon Haat’, where farm owners from surrounding upazilas and districts come to hire them to harvest jute and other crops.

While visiting the marketplace — located off of Dhaka-Barishal highway in Goalchamat area beside the town water treatment plant — last Saturday morning, more or less one thousand migrant workers were seen waiting on a prospective client. 

While only a handful of them found work at nearby crop fields, the rest had to linger in the area with uncertainty.  

Most workers this correspondent spoke with said they come to Jon Haat in Faridpur town every year, as they can earn a bit better by working for similar jobs at their home villages.

Since monsoon is the jute harvesting time and the pay is usually good in Faridpur or the districts surrounding it, most of the migrant jobseekers had arrived at the marketplace in the last part of June.

After the lockdown was imposed this month, they got stuck in the town, with most of them already used up all the money they brought with them from home.

Unable to afford any lodging facilities, they have been spending the night at storefronts, bus stations or school grounds near Jon Haat, they also said. 

One of the, Billal Mollah, said he came to Faridpur town on June 25 from Mithuani village in Chauhali upazila of Sirajganj.   

“I had the chance to work for five days and make Tk 2,500 after working at a crop field in Saltha upazila. But now I am spending Tk 150 of the money on meals every day.

“I don’t know when I’ll get another job as no one is able to reach this haat and hire us amid the lockdown. But my wife and two sons need me to send money for their survival,” Billal said helplessly.

Moslem Bepari, from Ghugri Pantapur village in Jhenidah’s Maheshpur upazila, said he came to Faridpur 10 days ago and he worked at a job for two days only.

“I came here as there’s no work in our area during the rainy season. There’s a lot of work in Faridpur region, but I can’t get any of those jobs due to the lockdown now,” he added.

Another of the workers, Ashraful of Lalmonirhat, said, “I’ve been coming to Faridpur during the jute harvesting season for 12 years now. I had gotten many jobs here before and made good money. But this year, my earnings have stopped due to the lockdown.”

Now my wife is asking me to go back home, but I can’t, as I don’t have much money left.”

Sattar Sardar, a resident of Hatbaira village in Shahjadpur upazila of Sirajganj, said after losing about 85 bighas of arable land to the Jumuna river, he and his wife had been living with their two daughters on someone else’s land.

Until farmers stopped coming to Jon Haat for labourers due to the lockdown, the marketplace had been the source of his livelihood for years, he also said.

Babu Sheikh, a resident of Khodaboksh Road area in Faridpur town and also the organiser of Jon Haat, said hundreds of labourers from Rangpur, Naogaon, Lalmonirhat, Pabna, Sirajganj, Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Chuadanga, Jhenidah and Meherpur come to the marketplace.

“On the other hand, a good number of farm owners from different upazilas in Faridpur, Shariatpur, Madaripur, Gopalganj and Barishal come here to hire workers for their crop fields. We charge each farm owner Tk 10 for each worker hired from here.

“Near about 500 to 600 workers are being left without jobs every day here since the lockdown was enforced. They have been sleeping at different places including the bus terminal, schools and in front of different shops.”

During lockdown last year, the police as well as different voluntary organisations distributed food relief to migrant workers stranded in Faridpur town. But no one came to help them out this time, added Babu.

Asked, Faridpur Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer Masum Raza said, “No one told me about the situation of these day labourers. I will contact the haat management authority and take urgent steps so the day labourers can get jobs and go to their workplaces.”