Bangladeshi undocumented migrants trapped in a Bosnian forest
Bangladeshi undocumented migrants trapped in a Bosnian forestReuters

Death on the Mediterranean is nothing new and many Bangladeshis have met their watery end there, duped by human traffickers with promises of migration. Over the past five years reports of horrific journeys and deaths have been appearing regularly in the media. And now the names of two European countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia, are being heard as new routes for human trafficking.

International news agencies Reuters and AP have reported about the over 600 hopeful migrants, including Bangladeshis, trapped in extreme cold conditions in forests of those two countries. The exact number of Bangladeshis among them was not specified.

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The human trafficking rings bring these people in various ways through Croatia to Bosnia or Slovenia. From there the traffickers embark them on dangerous journeys across the Adriatic Sea to Italy and other wealthy European countries.

Several European diplomatic sources informed Prothom Alo that there are many Bangladeshis among persons from other countries who have been taking these treacherous trips over the past couple of years to Bosnia and Slovenia en route Italy. Bosnia-Croatia or Slovenia-Croatia have become the major routes for human trafficking to Europe.

Diplomatic sources of Belgium and the Netherlands on Thursday told Prothom Alo that from April this year, the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) had been running at least seven camps for migrants in Bosnia. The Bosnian authorities have cleared away these camps and so for two weeks the people who had been staying at these camps have taken shelter in the Bosnia's forests and abandoned buildings along the border with Croatia. Many are staying in makeshift shacks they have erected on the roadside.

Bangladesh national Mohammad Abdul who was staying there, told Reuters that they had no homes, no water, no toilets and no medical facilities. He said that the 500 of them had been driven out of the camps and so had to take refuge in the forests

Reuters reported on Wednesday and Thursday that at least 500 migrants, including Bangladeshis, had taken shelter in forests and an abandoned factory near a border-lying Croatian town. They were waiting to go via Croatia to Italy. Other than Bangladeshis, these migrants included Pakistanis, Moroccans and Algerians.

The Reuters images showed people shivering in the extreme cold, lighting fires in an attempt to stay warm. They were roaming around the forests, praying and cooking in the abandoned factory. And people were walking in long lines down the border-lying road towards Croatia. Bangladeshi faces were visible in all the 25 published photographs.

Bangladesh national Mohammad Abdul who was staying there, told Reuters that they had no homes, no water, no toilets and no medical facilities. He said that the 500 of them had been driven out of the camps and so had to take refuge in the forests.

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A border guard of Bosnia, speaking to Reuters said that the migrants were crossing the river by rubber boats and coming to Bosnia. But the current of the river was so strong that they faced a precarious situation. Many died when the boats capsized. But the crowds at the Croatian border indicated these desperate migrants could not be stopped by any means.

On Tuesday there were reports of over a 100 migrants, including Bangladeshis, being detained in Slovenia on their way illegally to Europe.

Slovenian news agency Total Slovenia News reported that 144 persons were caught in various areas of the country's southwestern region and that most of them were from Bangladesh and Pakistan.

An AFP report said that 113 undocumented migrants were caught on Sunday on the southern border of Croatia. There are reports that the number of these illegal migrants is steadily rising. In the first eight months of this year, 10,223 migrants have been detained in Slovenia for illegally crossing the border.

Bangladesh has no embassy in Bosnia. Its embassy in the Netherlands maintains diplomatic contact with the country. Bangladesh ambassador in the Netherlands, M Reaz Hamidullah, when asked about the Bangladeshi migrants in Bosnian forests, told Prothom Alo over phone, "I have asked the Bosnian foreign ministry for information about the Bangladeshis who are in the forests of Bosnia near Croatia along with migrants of other countries. They have assured us that they will provide detailed information. Bangladesh's honorary consul in Bosnia has also been asked to look into the matter."

Human trafficking routes and deaths

Around 15 years ago, the human smugglers would take people from Dhaka by air to the Middle East on to various African countries. From there they would cross the Sahara desert to the Mediterranean coast. Then by rubber dinghies they would start they journey. Many Bangladeshis died in the Sahara desert.

Later Libya became the transit point for the traffickers, particularly when the civil war broke out their following the fall of the military ruler Gaddafi. From 2015 there were regular reports of migrants dying while crossing the Mediterranean.

In May, 26 Bangladeshis were shot dead by traffickers in the desert before they could go to Italy from Libya. Even after that, the migrant hopefuls continue to be lured by the human traffickers

Around the same time, human trafficking of people from Bangladesh and Myanmar began to increase though the Bay of Bengal. In 2015 there was the shocking discovery of mass graves in Thailand's jungles of migrants trying to go to Malaysia. It was learnt that the traffickers were holding the Bangladeshis and Rohingyas hostage in camps. If they failed to arrange the ransom, they were beaten to death and thrown into the mass graves.

There are also trafficking routes to Australia and New Zealand via Malaysia or Indonesia. But the traffickers are not very successful on these routes as the Australian and New Zealand governments that tightened security along their coasts.

Bangladeshis have also died while being trafficked by these unscrupulous gangs to the US via Colombia and Mexico. The matter has appeared several times in the US annual report on human trafficking.

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UNHCR has drawn up a list of the top 10 countries from where people are illegally crossing over to Europe by the Mediterranean and land routes. Bangladesh ranks fourth on this list. In the first eight months of 2020, a total of 3,325 Bangladeshis nationals reached Europe by land route. And in the years from 2015 to 2019, the number of these illegal migrants who died while crossing the Mediterranean was 3771, 5096, 3139 and 1319 respectively.

In May, 26 Bangladeshis were shot dead by traffickers in the desert before they could go to Italy from Libya. Even after that, the migrant hopefuls continue to be lured by the human traffickers who are finding new and varied routes for their 'trade'.

Founder chair of Refugee and Migration Movement Research Unit (RMMRU), Tasneem Siddiqui, told Prothom Alo that recently some of these agents were arrested here after the news of the human trafficking incidents in Libya. But no action is being taken against the actual players. Until and unless they are identified and punished, this will not end.

This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir