Migrants can help beat Covid-19
The deadly Delta variant is surging globally, and it is two years since I saw my wife, two children and parents in Bangladesh. I last visited them before Covid-19. Seeing my family again seems out of the question for years to come. This sad story is repeated for millions who are working abroad.
Being apart from family for long periods is common for migrant workers. But in this pandemic, everything is worse. Lockdowns and restrictions mean less or even zero income. Health suffers, both physical and psychological. We live in constant fear that Covid-19 will sweep through our homes or workplaces and claim our lives.
I've seen many migrant workers lose their jobs and income. Lives fall apart. Families depend on our income and when we've got nothing to send home it's devastating. I am one of the lucky few. I work in sales and have kept my job.
Life can be very tough for millions of migrant workers everywhere. In some areas of the Maldives, up to 50 workers live together, in one accommodation. Most are jobless due to Covid-19. There are no showers or even clean water to drink. Some who still have jobs don't know when they will be paid because businesses are in dire trouble.
I was overwhelmed to see the Maldivian Red Crescent helping migrant workers with food and water. I saw people who were sick and tested positive for Covid-19 supported with the health care and given access to treatment facilities.
The tough times faced by migrant workers spurred me to volunteer with the Maldivian Red Crescent to help others in my community. I immediately started helping undocumented migrant workers to access vaccines. I was excited to discover that it's one of the only programmes in the world to help vaccinate undocumented migrant workers.
Trust is central to my work with fellow migrant workers. Speaking the local Maldivian language, Dhivehi, as well as Bengali and English, I have been playing a central role in winning the trust of migrant workers, exchanging important and personal information.
The first question most migrants ask is: can I leave the country and head home without issues. Only after this will they inquire about the vaccine, how to get it and possible side effects.
I am fortunate that I was able to learn English with my job when I stepped foot to work in this country at age 20. These language skills have saved my life.
Right after I received my vaccine in February this year, I actively encouraged my co-workers to get vaccinated or even just to go find out more and register. This country is a South Asian cultural melting pot. Most of my co-workers are migrants from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. Many registered for the vaccine, though a lot were reluctant. Some are concerned that the vaccine would cause them to lose control over their bodies and even lives.
The Maldivian Red Crescent has been working with migrant workers in four key languages to help give access to health care and vaccinations. I have seen the huge difference this makes with increased rates of vaccination and improved health for our at-risk communities.
One of the biggest fears undocumented migrants have is that if they register for vaccination, they will be deported. I have seen hundreds of people worried sick that authorities are using vaccination programmes to send undocumented migrant workers out of the country.
But with the Maldivian Red Crescent we have been working hard to support undocumented migrant workers because usually, it's simply that people cannot fill out paperwork because they do not know how to read and write.
We have been delivering lifesaving Covid-19 and vaccine information in person and via audio messages in all of the migrant languages. Our main message to gain trust is that all personal information from undocumented migrants stays confidential and is not shared with authorities.
We have seen more than 5,000 undocumented workers step forwards, including with their families, to be vaccinated. It's critical that we provide information and education on Covid-19, vaccinations and health services in languages besides English, such as Hindi, Bengali, Nepali and Tamil. We have seen that providing such information and making it accessible is lifesaving.
As we face this terrible Delta variant, it's so moving to see newly unemployed migrant construction workers crying with joy to know they can access the vaccine and basic health care. It can seem like a small thing, but hygiene kits mean so much when you have nothing. Basics like shampoo, soaps, towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste, masks and washing powder go a long way to maintaining some dignity.
Undocumented migrant workers remain most at-risk to Covid-19 in many parts of Asia. Yet we have seen that simple steps can enable millions of more people to be vaccinated and protected from this terrible disease.
Hasan Imaam Chanmia, a 35-year-old Bangladeshi migrant in the Maldives, volunteers with the Maldivian Red Crescent, who leads initiatives to vaccinate undocumented migrant workers.