A group of Bangladeshi nationals were trafficked to the West African country of Togo by air, lured by their possible entry to Italy in Europe, according to victims and rights activists.
Organised rackets, including Bangladeshis and foreign nationals, were involved with the trafficking of the Bangladeshis, they said.
At least four Bangladeshis were recently rescued in Lome, the capital city of the African country. They were identified as Saidur Rahman of Dhaka, Al Amin of Gopalganj, Abul Hassan of Jhenidah and Easin of Chandpur.
The victims have been kept at the Centre De Conference-CSI Afrique in Lome. They said that they were taken to Togo by air with the promise of being sent to Italy in Europe. But they were kept in different houses controlled by traffickers for more than one year, they said.
Awaj Foundation’s executive director Nazma Akter who was involved the rescue operation, said that after getting information about the victims, they communicated with various national and international agencies including the Solidarity Center office and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)’s office, seeking help.
The four victims were finally rescued by the trade unionists in Togo in collaboration with ITUC and placed in a shelter home in Lome, she told this correspondent on Saturday.
Nazma Akter said that her organisation has already informed the Bangladesh government and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and requested for the safe repatriation of the Bangladeshis from Togo.
Each of the four victims of Bangladesh, according to their statement, paid BDT from 17,00,000 to BDT 20,00,000 (USD 20,000 to USD 23,600) to traffickers in guise of brokers who promised to send them to Italy.
Togo has been used as a temporary destination maybe due to its existing ‘Visa on Arrival’ facilities for the Bangladeshi citizens, they observed.
A 26-year-old victim Saidur Rahman of Dohar, Dhaka, said from Lome that he had paid BDT 600,000 (USD 7,080) to a local broker of Narsingdi district before starting his journey in December 2019.
He said that the traffickers in Togo had snatched away over USD 12,000 more which he taken with him from Bangladesh.
Saidur said that he reached in Togo by air from Dhaka Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. On his way to Togo he had transit in Bangkok and Addis Ababa.
After making a 27-hour air journey, he landed in Lome airport in Togo where he was granted a tourist visa.
From Lome airport, he was well received by two people including one Bangladeshi and another African and was taken to a house where he met three more Bangladeshis. They were brought to that country same way.
The traffickers tortured the victims physically and mentally when they asked for their money or inquired about their journey to Europe, he said.
Migrant rights campaigner Anisur Rahman Khan, also Awaj Foundation director for migration who has been in touch of the four victims, said Togo has emerged as a new trafficking route to Europe from Bangladesh.
Over the years, many Bangladeshis have been trafficked to Europe through Morocco and Libyan coasts of Africa, he said.
When asked about stranded Bangladeshis in Togo, senior officials of the foreign ministry’s Africa and consular wings declined to comment.
Additional secretary of the home ministry, Jahangir Alam, who is in charge of the counter trafficking cell in Dhaka, said that they could the secure borders of the country but they have no access to protect the victims of trafficking in the foreign lands.
When asked about repatriation of the victims stuck in Lome, he said that repatriation of the stranded victims was usually facilitated by the IOM and the ministry of foreign affairs.
“The home ministry could only verify their identity of the victims if requested,” he said.
Joint secretary of the Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry and designated chief of the monitoring and enforcement unit, Muzaffar Ahmed, said that they could take action against recruiting agencies if they were found involved sending workers illegally.
“Togo is not a destination of Bangladeshi migrant workers, so there is no scope of sending workers there legally,” he said, adding that the home ministry would take action against the human traffickers.
When asked for comment, Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program chairman Shakirul Islam who has conducted much research on trafficking issues, said that transnational rackets were involved in trafficking of potential migrants of Bangladesh offering false promise to send them to Europe.
“The Bangladesh government should take multi-national approaches to unitedly check the transnational crime,” he said.
According to the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2020, the government of Bangladesh did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but was making significant efforts to do so.
Therefore, Bangladesh has been placed in the Tier 2 list, saidthe TIP report.
Md Owasim Uddin Bhuyan is a freelance journalist