Migrants held hostage and tortured in desert, no justice at home

Children and human trafficking
Prothom Alo illustration

Masud Rana of Tangail went to Iraq nine years ago after selling his land and borrowing from various NGOs, but he was tortured there, did not get a job and eventually returned home after nine months.

He filed a case with the capital’s Airport police station against the people concerned including Nasir Uddin, owner of recruiting agency that sent him to Iraq.

The police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) submitted charge sheet to the court after investigating the case for a month and a half.

Masud Rana told Prothom Alo he and 26 other people were kept confined to a camp in a desert in Iraq instead of being given jobs. He barely survived on the money that he brought with him from home.

“I have spent my money and gone to court in Dhaka for several times. I haven’t get justice in 10 years and the accused have walked out of jail on bail,” he lamented.

Like Masud Rana, Md Babu from Naogaon went to Egypt to earn a living. He, too, did not get a job there, was tortured and returned home. Md Babu filed a case against the trafficking ring and the trial proceeding is yet to be completed over the past nine years.

Records of the police headquarters shows 7,517 cases were filed in the country over past 18 years, with 247 cases seeing settlement, which is only 3.28 per cent of total cases.

According to home ministry, law enforcement agencies investigated 538 trafficking cases in 2021 and the verdict was given in one case only. On the other hand, 11 cases were filed this year.

434 traffickers punished in 18 years

According to data from police the police headquarters, 31,101 people are involved in human trafficking across the country. Law enforcing agencies have arrested 14,538 of those traffickers over the past 18 years. In the meantime, trafficking rings smuggled 13,424 people to various countries while various government and non-government organisations rescued 10,579 trafficking victims. Eight people were sentenced to death, 299 got life term and 127 others received other sentences.

According to police sources, 40 per cent of trafficking case are filled in Dhaka division, followed by Khulna division (22 per cent) while only 1 per cent of cases were registered in Rangpur division.

Trafficking destination

According to a recent study of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), people from Bangladesh are mostly trafficked to India, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, Spain and the Middle Eastern countries of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Iraq, Bahrain and Libya.

Demanding ransom after trafficking

People are being lured with promises of jobs in Europe, then held hostage in various countries including Libya and Iraq where they were taken on a promise to being sent to Europe. Later, traffickers demand ransom, sending video of the torture to victim’s family. Many victims were tortured to death after failing to pay ransom.

The CID traced several identified human traffickers by tracing the ransom transactions. According to the CID, Bangladeshi expatriates in Malaysia are leading the kidnapping of migrant workers.

Mazharul Islam from Kishoreganj went to Iraq four years ago. He was kidnapped from Kirkuk, Iraq. He was then confined to an unknown location and was beaten indiscriminately. After that, kidnapers demanded Tk 2 million to his family or else Mazharul Islam will be killed. His father agreed to give ransom to save his son’s life.

Later, his family paid Tk 500,000 in phases to a number provided by a member of the trafficking ring. The CID then arrested four people from Bangladesh following the trace of transaction. A case was filed with capital’s Bhatara police station.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, plaintiff of the case CID sub-inspector (SI) said Sultan Alam from Faridpur is the ringleader of this trafficking gang and he operates from Iraq while Baser and Ruhul Amin are his aides.

There were three associates of the trafficking gang in the country and they collected the ransom money, he said adding the CID has arrested these three members of this ring.

When asked over low settlement of trafficking case, Supreme Court lawyer Shahdeen Malik told Prothom Alo that the law enforcement agencies do not have the skill or competence to prepare charge sheet after investigations, the witness depositions and evidence.

In any democratic country, if the criminals cannot be proven guilty, top officials of the law enforcement agencies as well as the public prosecutor are forced to resign, he added.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna