South Asia braces for fall in vital remittances

DHAKA, November 2, 2008 (AFP) – The global economic crisis is putting a dent in funds sent to poor South Asian countries by nationals working abroad amid fears their armies of cheap workers will become redundant, say recruitment agents. Millions of families in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka rely on remittances from relatives working in construction or as domestic servants in booming southeast Asian and Gulf nations.

Unskilled workers can often save in a month what they could in a year back home, helping prop up shaky balance of payments in their domestic economies.

But recruiters say this is now under threat after oil prices fell to a near two-year low of 61 dollars per barrel and as the worst global financial turmoil since the 1930s grips the developed world.

“The honeymoon seems to be over for us,” said Golam Mostafa, president of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies.

“Oil prices have tumbled which will sharply slow down demand for our workers in the Gulf’s booming construction industry in coming months. Other jobs will also take a hit.”

Bangladesh sent a record 832,000 people abroad in 2007, many of whom landed jobs in oil-rich Gulf countries after sky-rocketing crude price