About 39 Bangladeshis are still missing since their boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said on Wednesday.
‘About 39 Bangladeshis are still missing according to our information, while one of the 15 rescued by the fishermen at sea died in a hospital,’ the minister said, adding that Bangladesh diplomats in Tunisia ‘are trying to collect information about the missing people.’
The traffickers comprising locals in different districts in the country and foreigners abroad are involved in alluring people to take on the risky voyage to the European countries, including Italy, he told journalists at his office.
Taking clues from his communications with Bangladesh ambassador to Libya Sk Sekander Ali, the minister said the ambassador and other officials visited the rescued Bangladeshi victims in hospitals in Tunisia.
Some victims told the ambassador that traffickers took them to Libyan coasts through Dubai and Sharjah in the UAE, Alexandria of Egypt and Amman of Jordan to Libya for their eventual journey to Italy.
During the journey, the traffickers tortured their targets to milk more money from their families in Bangladesh. The victims could not escape as they were kept under constant guard.
Considering the war-situation in Libya as a potential boon, traffickers were turning the desperation of the people trying to reach the Italian coasts into a profit-generating venture.
The foreign minister said a large group of people was involved in trafficking in disguise of travel agents in Sylhet. The district administration in Sylhet sealed off offices of about 23 unregistered travel agencies.
There are trafficking cartels in Noakhali, Shariatpur and Madaripur, the minister said. The cartel in Noakhali is popularly known as ‘three brothers’.
Now many people were setting off to Italy in the hope of jobs, but things happening to these aspirants ‘which is unfortunate,’ he said.
In the latest incident, Momen said the traffickers were carrying about 150 people from Tunisian coast to Italy in two big boats on May 9. One hundred and thirty of 150 were Bangladesh nationals.
One of the two boats ‘has possibly reached Italy,’ he said mentioning that Bangladesh embassy in Tripoli could not re-check the information.
Traffickers were carrying ill-fated 70-80 aspirants in another boat. They forced the victims to ride in two smaller boats at mid-sea. They also beat several men unwilling to get onboard the smaller boats. ‘Boat capsize had possibly happened when the victims were being forcibly transferred to smaller boats,’ the minister said.
Fishermen rescued 17 people from the sea and 15 of them were Bangladeshis. One of the 15 people died at a hospital. The deceased was identified as Uttam Das of Naria under Shariatpur district.
All the fourteen Bangladeshis have been undergoing treatment at two local hospitals. Four of them are seriously sick. Two out of four sick victims bore burn injuries as they tried to save themselves at sea by holding on to a drum full of hot fuel oil.
When asked about the claims made by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society that the society listed the identity of 27 deceased Bangladeshis, the minister said people should not be identified as dead without confirmation from a competent authority.
Three bodies were found at another coast of Tunisia on Tuesday, he said, adding that it could not be confirmed whether they were victims of boat capsize.
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