37 migrants from Bangladesh feared dead in Mediterranean

Traffickers dupe hundreds into sea journey for Europe, Australia, over 100 languishing in camps in Vanuatu

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | Published: 13:33, May 12,2019 | Updated: 02:02, May 13,2019


Migrants, who were rescued after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the Tunisian Coast after they had left Libya, are seen inside a local Red Cresent chapter in Zarzis, Tunisia, on Saturday. — Reuters photo

Human traffickers are duping hundreds of people, mostly young males, into risky sea journey for migrating to Europe and countries, including Australia and the United States.
A good number of the victims also fall into traps of servitude leaving behind a debt-burden for their family at home.
In a major incident on Friday, 37 Bangladeshi migrants were feared dead in a boat capsize in Mediterranean Sea on Friday, according to Bangladesh embassy in Libyan capital Tripoli.
Over 100 Bangladeshi males, including two minors, have been stuck in remote South Pacific island country Vanuatu for at least six months being lured by traffickers with the promises of work and business that have never materialised.
Traffickers in most of the cases use tourist visa and visa-on-arrival facilities to evade the compliance with provisions meant for migrant workers enforced by the expatriates welfare and overseas employment authorities.
‘Indeed people are going through air and land routes’ from Bangladesh, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said.
‘We do not bar people with no criminal records from leaving the country if their travel documents are valid,’ Momen said, adding that immigration department should take measures to tighten outbound irregular movement of the people.
Mentioning about the government decision to stop sending workers to Libya, he said most of the Bangladeshis who attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea went possibly through west Asian countries.
Bangladesh labour counsellor in Tripoli ASM Ashraful Islam said on Sunday that 37 out of the 51 Bangladeshis who were crossing the sea were still missing.
The foreign minister said that 30-35 of them might have died.
A Tunisian fishing boat rescued 16 people, including 14 Bangladesh nationals, said the minister referring to Red Crescent in Tunisia.
There were nearly 75 passengers from different countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt and Morocco, on the boat.
The government would take measures to bring back home the people who would be identified as Bangladesh nationals, the minister added.
In many cases traffickers transfer their prey to African countries through west Asian airports for eventually taking them to European destinations which primarily include Italy and Greece, sources in families of the victims said.
Some of the victims also attempts to settle as grocers in remote areas in South Africa.
The victims intending to go to countries in Americas are initially taken to countries in Central America for eventually crossing the US border, the sources said.
Victims intending for Australia and New Zealand are taken through Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Bali airports from India and Nepal and, in some cases, from Dhaka and Chittagong airports, the said.
In Vanuatu, authorities arrested four Bangladesh nationals — Anwar Hossain, Palash Hossain, Sikder Sumon and his wife Nabilah Bibi — and charged them with human trafficking.
According to diplomats, the victims told them that they were duped into going there by a network of brokers, who transported the group in different phases to Vanuatu via India, Singapore and Fiji over the past two years.
The traffickers organised the tour under cover of a furniture company called ‘Mr. Price’, owned by Sikder and Nabilah couple, in Vanuatu capital Port Vila.
Lured by the promise of sales jobs in Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu, several victims said, they sold properties and took out loans to pay the traffickers up to $25,000 for the move.
Shahin Khan, one of the Bangladesh victims, said that the traffickers promised him that he would be given business cards so that he could travel to Australia. ‘All those were false promises,’ he said, alleging that they were tortured and abused.
Some of the victims were promised a salary of $5,000 a month.
The traffickers took the facilities of visa-on-arrival granted by Vanuatu for countries, including Bangladesh.
The victims were now placed in various locations in Port Vila under supervision of the Vanuatu government, the diplomats said.
The victims ‘are now in deep soup’ as they would be allowed neither to work nor to leave the place until and unless the cases are settled by the court Shahin Khan told diplomats.
Vanuatu High Court on May 9 denied bail to the accused as their lawyers argued that they required to be released to pay their family debts, according to Radio New Zealand.
A representative of the victims told the RNZ Pacific that they do not want to return to Bangladesh because of their inability to pay the debt.
The trafficking victims demanded a third country settlement or a compensation package worth Tk 40-45 lakh for each to be paid by the Bangladesh government, Bangladesh officials said.
Human Rights Coalition of Vanuatu stressed that the voice of the victims should be heard as they were forced to work long hours for no pays, kept in squalid conditions and given little food, which was in most of the cases only rice and boiled cabbage.
Coercion and threat of violence were common for the group in servitude with no freedom of movement, said the rights organisation.
Bangladesh high commissioner to Australia with concurrent responsibility for Vanuatu M Sufiur Rahman said a High Commission official visited Port Vila to facilitate quick decision by the authorities in the host country for the victims.
The Bangladesh government would extend all support necessary for safe return of the victims to home from Vanuatu, he added.

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