When Morocco’s stellar World Cup success of reaching to semi-finals of the ‘greatest show on earth’ as the first African nation mesmerizes the world, at least one family in Bangladesh grieves every time they hear the name of the country.
Morocco has become a buzzword in the Bangladesh football frenzy. While you can hear the name popping up everywhere, to the family from Sunamganj’s Chhatak, the name with a grim and agonising reminder.
This is the story of a migration seeker Mamun Ahmed Mishu from Noarai village of Chhatak pourashava, who died off the coast of Morocco in 2021. For his widow Jesmine Nahar Jharna, Morocco has since become synonymous with the resting place of her husband.
Son of freedom fighter Alkas Ali and Nurjahan Begum, Mishu would work as a contractual employee with Lafarge Surma Cement Ltd in Chhatak.
Like many other Bangladeshis, Mishu chased the dream of going to Europe for a better life for him, for his family, and especially for his only son.
And like many others, he had chosen an illegal route suggested by a middleman from Dhaka, not knowing, or perhaps defying, the perils en route.
Morocco is considered a transit country for many migrants seeking to reach Europe from its Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts. In 2021, a total of 4,404 migrants died or disappeared during their sea crossing to Spain, according to Caminando Fronteras, which keeps track of these migration tragedies. Mishu was one of those unfortunate persons.
“Mishu started the voyage in March 2019 and went to Algeria with a tourist visa and stayed there for around 2 months. Then he moved to Morocco and became illegal immigrant. He was supposed to cross the sea to reach Spain from Morocco. Despite several attempts the middleman failed to send them to Europe,” said his 31-year-old widow Jharna.
The push for Europe by perilous sea route is locally known as ‘game’. Middlemen would push for entry into Europe dodging the Coast Guards of Morocco and Spain, especially when the weather is inclement and sea is rough. Mishu and many other migration-seekers, boarded in rickety boats, tried to cross the sea several times, to no avail.
The middleman from Dhaka had link with another middleman from Morocco who would oversee the ‘game’, a risky game indeed, to send them to their coveted land.
For around two and half years, Mishu would mostly stay in jungles in Morocco. Around 40-50 of them would live cheek and jowl inside a tiny tent.
Mishu had, by this time, already spend around three years, partly due to Covid shutdown and arrest of the Moroccan middleman. This wait was too long for a youth who was on a mission. He had to spend over one million taka in the process.
“For around two and half years, Mishu would mostly stay in jungles in Morocco. Around 40-50 of them would live cheek and jowl inside a tiny tent. When too exasperated by the inordinate waiting, sometimes Mishu would also go to big cities at his own cost and risk, just for a breather,” said his wife.
Mishu made his final voyage on 7 December 2021.
“I talked with him around two hours before his final journey started. He sent a message again later saying they would leave within 15 minutes. He sent a message again 3:30am Bangladesh time saying he is at sea and everything was just fine. I could not respond to that message as I was sleeping. He again sent me a message in the afternoon the following day that he would call me once he reached Europe.”
Jharna said Mishu boarded a rickety dinghy carrying around 65 migration-seekers including five Bangladeshis on that fateful voyage. The boat sunk off the coast of Morocco killing 29 of them.
Jharna said those who were alive told them later that Mishu was still breathing when the Moroccan Coast Guard rescued him but there was a delay in taking him to hospital
Jharna said those who were alive told them later that Mishu was still breathing when the Moroccan Coast Guard rescued him but there was a delay in taking him to hospital.
“Who knows perhaps he could have been saved if taken to hospital immediately. We saw a picture of Mishu’s body three days later,” Jharna said adding that the family members could not bring the body to Bangladesh since it was a very lengthy and difficult process to bring the body of an illegal migrant back.
Mishu and some other hapless migrants were unceremoniously buried in Morocco a couple of days later.
Jharna now wants to live the rest of her life with the memories of her husband and ensure a better life for their 8-year old son Jawdan Ahmed Mahir.
“I feel his absence everyday…but all this hue and cry about Morocco centering football around you just reminds you again and again that this is the country where Jadwan’s father spent his last years and in some corner of the that country lies buried forever,” Jharna said in an emotion-choked voice.
Farhad Ahmed, Sylhet regional programme coordinator of Democracy International, who was a classmate of Mishu from class one to ten, said Mishu was full of life and loved dearly by his friends.
“I talked with him over a video call for an hour before his final journey. We all pleaded with him to comeback but he was desperate after staying so long in Morocco. He was frustrated about being stuck there.”
“Morocco’s World Cup success reminds me of Mishu even more. I want to go to Morocco even if just for once in my life to pay a visit to Mishu’s grave,” added Farhad.
Mishu’s family and friends held a prayer congregation for him on 9 December at his home on his first death anniversary, a day before the North African nation reached the semi-finals beating Portugal.
I beseech all who are planning to go to Europe by illegal route to forgo this perilous route. Nothing is more important than lifeMishu's mother Nurjahan
Mishu’s mother Nurjahan laments everyday why she allowed Mishu to go in the first place.
“We never had an idea of the risk involved in the journey. I will pray no mother goes through the pangs I’ve been going through. The aches of not seeing, not holding my only son would never heal.”
“I beseech all who are planning to go to Europe by illegal route to forgo this perilous route. Nothing is more important than life,” Nurjahan said in a muffled voice.