Bangladesh asked to prosecute smugglers of unaccompanied minors to Europe

A Libyan Navy boat carries migrants back to the coastal city of Misrata on May 3, 2015. Nearly 5,800 migrants were plucked from boats off the coast of Libya and 10 bodies were recovered in less than 48 hours, ItalyFile Photo

Bangladeshi brokers involved in smuggling of unaccompanied minors from Bangladesh to Italy and other European countries should be identified immediately and prosecuted, leading migration experts have said.

They suggest Bangladesh bolster international collaboration and partnership among the states especially with transit and destinations to break the rackets of the transnational smugglers.

Smuggling of minor migrants marked a rise amid pandemic situations, the experts observed.

They call for taking immediate and effective measures to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.

Bangladeshi unaccompanied minors continue to be smuggled to Italy via African coast and the East European land routes by the organised rackets through all routes, an independent investigation reveals.

Bangladeshi brokers prepare travel documents including the passports for the minors using ages above 18 to ensure their smooth air travel as unaccompanied migrants from Bangladesh, finds the investigation which was supported by

Countless Bangladeshi brokers are active in Bangladesh and Libya and in other transit countries facilitating the irregular migration. They gather aspirant migrants including minors and take them to Libya. They realize the ransom money from their families before sending them to Italy by boat, the investigation found.

Bangladesh Parliamentarians’ Caucus on Migration and Development secretary general Mahjabeen Khaled said that the brokers or dalal should be identified and punished immediately.

“Punishing few dalals will make good examples. The government side should show that they are seriously trying to stop the smuggling of the Bangladeshi migrants to Europe,” she said.

Global migration expert Syed Saiful Haque said that due to shrinking of legal pathways of migration, the smugglings of migrant workers and also the unaccompanied minors from Bangladesh seem to be increasing in recent times

Stressing the need for awareness programs, she said that lawmakers should raise the issues at their regular meetings in the zila parishad, the deputy commissioner’s office ,the upazila parishad, the union Parishad and the mayor’s office. The law enforcement, teachers and religious leaders should play role to create awareness.

According to a record of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 1,213 unaccompanied and separated children from Bangladesh have arrived in Italy by sea routes from January to September 2021.

Among the nationality and demographics, the UNHCR reported that 5,994 refugees and migrants from Bangladesh have arrived in Italy during this period.

Global migration expert Syed Saiful Haque, also co-chair of Bangladesh Civil Society for Migration (BCSM) said that due to shrinking of legal pathways of migration, the smugglings of migrant workers and also the unaccompanied minors from Bangladesh seem to be increasing in recent times.

He called upon the government for strict enforcement of the counter-trafficking laws to punish the smugglers in Bangladesh. He also called for forging strong partnership with destinations to take action against rackets of smugglers globally.

According to Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), Bangladesh overseas employment has significantly declined last year due to COVID pandemic restrictions.

About 200,000 Bangladeshi migrants went abroad with jobs in 2020 though the country sent over 700,000 migrant workers abroad in 2019, the data shows.

Over the last six years, Bangladesh stopped sending workers to Libya due to the unstable situation. But the brokers continue to send Bangladeshi migrants, including minors to this war-torn country with the motive to send them to Italy by sea.

Mukles, a Bangladeshi broker and smuggler based in Misrata City of the northwestern Libya, has been involved in the illegal activities over the last few years.

He went to Libya in 2005 as a labourer and he had worked there for 10 years. When the Libyan war started, he joined local smugglers in the war-torn country.

He is familiar among Bangladeshis in Italy as he put hundreds of Bangladeshi migrants on the boat to send them to Italy from the Libyan coast.

The broker realised a huge amount of money from aspirant migrants and their families.

“I stayed 10 days in a crowded room of an abandoned house which was controlled by Mukles. My brother paid 3 lakh taka to his people in Dhaka and then he put me on the boat,” a Bangladeshi who reached in Italy said.

Mukles and his people collect Bangladeshi victims from different cities including Tripoli and Benghazi and send to the house, the victim said.

Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), a research-based organisation in Bangladesh has been working on migration for many years.

Its study found that the brokers or middlemen were strongly involved in the recruitment process and they frequently deceive and cheat the migrant workers. It recommends regularising the role of middlemen in the recruitment process in Bangladesh.

The EU countries should increase cross-border collaboration and improve data collection as the real number of missing minor migrants is reported to be much higher than what is known so far
Bikash Chowdhury Barua, Netherlands based migration expert

RMMRU director Marina Sultana said if brokers are regularised, the incidents of irregular migration or smuggling of migrant workers may be reduced, she said.

In Bangladesh, brokers work with recruiting agencies to collect migrant workers for overseas jobs. However, many of the brokers are involved with smuggling of unaccompanied minors to Europe. In cases of smuggling, they get help from the immigration officials to pass the minors and trafficking victims through “body contract” process, providing certain amount of money, investigation found.

Netherlands based migration expert Bikash Chowdhury Barua said that smuggling of minor migrants to Europe is not a new phenomenon. It has been continuing unabated for years. Children, alone or accompanied by family members comprise an increasing percentage of irregular migrants across the globe.

Bikash Chowdhury Barua, also Chairman of BASUG - Diaspora and Development said that it is a matter of great concern and the EU member states, the EU need to take enough and meaningful actions to prevent and respond to the disappearance of minor migrants.

“The EU countries should increase cross-border collaboration and improve data collection as the real number of missing minor migrants is reported to be much higher than what is known so far.”

He said that measures should be taken seriously and regularly to apprehend the human traffickers and give them exemplary punishment. There are also doubts and questions about the sincerity of the EU in addressing the issue., he said.

Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program chairman Shakirul Islam who conducted researches on human trafficking issues said that Bangladesh should award exemplary punishment to the brokers engaged in smuggling of unaccompanied minors.

“All pending human trafficking cases in Bangladesh should be properly judged without delay,” he said.

(The name of the smuggler has been changed in the report.)

*The investigation was supported by*

* Md Owasim Uddin Bhuyan is a freelance journalist who specializes in migration