New Bangladeshi ambassador to UAE Mohammad Abu Zafar
New Bangladeshi ambassador to UAE Mohammad Abu Zafar Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s Bangladeshi community has a new head at its helm. Mohammad Abu Zafar will officially start his tenure as Bangladeshi ambassador in the country on Monday July 20, and he has a clear vision that prioritises strengthening bilateral relations while supporting the expat base.

Speaking to Gulf News, Abu Zafar, who begins his new posting during the coronavirus pandemic, said he preferred to look at silver linings.

“I remain optimistic, and ready to work hard, as the world weathers this crisis. There are some things we cannot wish away, so the community needs our support,” Abu Zafar said.

“Nearly 10,000 Bangladeshi expats in the UAE who were stranded during the outbreak have been repatriated in 36 special flights. Now with the economy looking to revive itself, I hope to help people who have been laid off to find alternative employment if at all possible,” he added.

Abu Zafar’s hopeful remarks should come as a ray of light at a time when many Bangladeshis are struggling with job insecurity and financial instability. And the envoy, who was Bangladeshi ambassador to Austria prior to his UAE posting, doesn’t just want to stop at sourcing alternative employment.

“There are many expats here who are educated but working in menial jobs. If we can help upskill them in their respective fields, be it IT or plumbing, they will be offer better services here while also supporting family members who rely on their income,” he said.

New horizons after COVID-19

The Bangladeshi community in the UAE is known to be the second-largest Bangladeshi diaspora in the world, and numbers more than half a million members. Last year, the outgoing remittance to Bangladesh was around $2.5 billion (Dh9.18 billion).

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, Bangladesh is expecting a downturn in inward remittances in 2020. But Abu Zafar said that bilateral trade, which hovered around $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) in 2019, can shift to new sectors. So far, it has included hydrocarbons and minerals from the UAE to Bangladesh, and textiles, jute products and fresh produce from Bangladesh to the UAE.

“The world has a renewed focus in healthcare services, and this presents new horizons to the Bangladeshi workforce. We can bring in healthcare professionals, and export products we are manufacturing that are essential to the fight against COVID-19, including personal protective equipment and drugs like remdesivir,” Abu Zafar said.

Witnessing UAE milestones

The new ambassador, who previously served as Consul General to the UAE between 2009 and 2013, has also joined at a historic moment in the UAE’s development journey.

“I’ve been fortunate to witness many of the UAE’s milestones. At the start of my previous posting, Dubai launched its iconic metro. Towards the end of it, the country announced its Hope Probe Mission to Mars. It’s been six short years, but the Mission is ready, and I am here to witness the launch. I consider myself fortunate, and have tremendous respect for the UAE’s leadership and vision. This launch is a proud moment for the Muslim world,” Abu Zafar said.

Upcoming golden jubilees

The envoy is also poised to welcome a historic year for both countries in 2021.

“Both the UAE and Bangladesh gained their independence in December 1971, and are, as such, brotherly nations. Our founding father has visited the UAE, just as the UAE’s founding father has made a trip to Bangladesh. Both nations will reach their golden jubilees next year. This is a cause for much celebration, and we will surely discuss ways in which we can mark the occasion,” he said.

In the meantime, Abu Zafar also hopes to uplift the community further in the UAE. First among his priorities is securing a larger building for the embassy.

Change of embassy’s location

“The current building is grossly inadequate to offer services with comfortable social distancing in place. By the end of the year, we hope to rectify this and move to larger facilities,” he said.

Other services, such as the processing Bangladesh National IDs for UAE’s Bangladeshi expats, have meanwhile been put on hold by the embassy.

“We hope to resume these in the near future, while also introducing regular meetings with the business community and media personnel. I had hosted Bangladesh Business Breaks, and Bangladeshi Media Mornings, in Vienna, and I hope these two instruments launched in the UAE will help us further strengthen UAE-Bangladesh ties,” he added.