Despite the government's efforts to address the problem, Bangladesh remains the top country for illegal migrants to Europe. In the decade since 2009, 62,583 Bangladeshis have entered Europe irregularly using nine different routes. At least 3,332 Bangladeshis entered Europe via dangerous sea crossings in the first six months of this year, according to BRAC Migration Programme.
BRAC is an international development organisation in Bangladesh. Citing data from the European Border and Coast Guard, Frontex, BRAC said the highest number of 37,198 Bangladeshis used the Central Mediterranean route. In addition, 17,639 used the Eastern Mediterranean route and another 857 thrust into Europe between 2009 and May 2021 with the Western Mediterranean route. According to BRAC, most of those who choose to risk their lives on such sea voyages are between the ages of 25-40 years.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, an estimated 700,000 Bangladeshis who choose to migrate abroad each year face the risk of this process. Bangladesh's National Human Rights Commission has designated the act of trafficking as an "extreme violation of human rights" and an "abominable crime.”
There is no war going on in Bangladesh. Then what is the reason for the high incidences of human trafficking or migration from Bangladesh to other war-torn or politically unstable countries? Shariful Hasan, head of migration programme at BRAC said large numbers of Bangladeshi youths spend as much as Tk 10 to 15 lakhs for this hazardous journey, when they see their relatives or acquaintances who had migrated from their area to European countries were enjoying a better life and livelihood year after year. Most of them want to go there to improve their livelihood and social status!
The BRAC study found that on an average, each Europe-bound migrant spends between Tk 10 to Tk 15 lakhs, where the average cost of irregular migration to Malaysia and Middle East range from Tk 1 to Tk 3 lakhs. Two of such routes from Bangladesh are via India-Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran-Turkey-Greece and Dubai-Bahrain-Turkey-Libya-Italy. It is said that in the last two years, about two lakh Bangladeshis have gone to Dubai on visit visas. Subsequently, many of them chose to migrate to Europe irregularly.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), 4,510 undocumented Bangladeshi nationals arrived in Europe by sea and by land in 2020, entered Italy, Malta, Spain or Greece. In the same year 8,844 Bangladeshi Europe-bound migrants were tracked while passing through the Western Balkan countries.
According to the United Nations, half of the victims of global trafficking are trafficked for sexual exploitation and 38 per cent for forced labour. The United Nations has found that women continue to be the primary targets of victims, with 46 per cent of trafficked women and 19 per cent of girls.
Italy has made several efforts to curb smuggling in the Mediterranean. The Italian government has agreed to send naval patrol boats to Libya to assist the Libyan coast guard in the fight against human trafficking. It has taken part in talks with local militias to prevent migrants from sending boats, while offering little protection for migrants themselves.
NGOs engaged in the rescue of migrants have introduced a new code of conduct in Italy, which includes a ban on sending light signals and transferring migrants to other ships. Some NGOs, several of which have refused to sign the code, insist it will lead to more deaths, since 2017 their boats have picked up more than a third of the migrants brought ashore.
In Bangladesh, law enforcement agencies have launched operations against human traffickers or their accomplices more than once. Destination countries want to reduce irregular arrivals, so Bangladesh has tightened its policy to protect citizens deployed abroad. There is no lack of a mechanical systems to protect the rights of those who are formally employed. In 1982, the Government issued an Immigration Ordinance to observe and oversee the departure of migrant workers. The Overseas Employment Policy was followed up in 2006 to ensure the rights of workers to choose quality employment. Implementation, however, has been ad hoc. In 2011, Bangladesh adopted the Immigration and Overseas Employment Act, which seeks to make safe immigration by protecting the rights of immigrants. These include emergency repatriation of migrants in times of crisis, crackdown on fraud and increased recruitment agency accountability.
However, these institutional protections have become less effective as recruitment networks have become increasingly complex and difficult to penetrate. More than 10,000 unregistered and anonymous agents are operating across Bangladesh, according to Dhaka University, a research unit in the movement of refugees and migrants. Agents inform potential clients about job opportunities, staffing and financial management.
In view of the economic and political challenges of Bangladesh, it is highly unlikely that the desire to pursue the international dream will diminish among many Bangladeshis at any time, Especially, as long as a wide network of employers risks the possibility of connecting with a well-heeled employer, while the Bangladesh government can regulate and monitor recruitment agencies and increase their activity throughout the journey, this is a huge challenge.
The writer is a barrister living
in the United Kingdom