European Commission recommended stricter visa policies for Bangladeshi citizens. If this recommendation results in a decision at the European Council meeting next month, it may be difficult for Bangladeshis to travel to Europe.

EU said, it took this tougher stand as the Bangladesh government did not take any efficient steps to take back the illegal migrants stranded in various European countries. This has created discontent among the EU countries. These countries complained to European Commission, following which the commission made the recommendation on 15 July to impose temporary restrictive measures for Bangladeshi travellers.

Foreign ministry officials in Dhaka said Bangladesh had been informed of the move as no progress had been made in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to bring back the illegal migrants. The EU signed an SOP with Bangladesh in September 2017 to repatriate illegal immigrants.

If the recommendation of the European Commission becomes a decision, it may be difficult for Bangladeshis to go to European countries.

According to the website of European Commission, it took temporary restrictive measures in four sectors, namely,

  1. Suspension of waiver of certain supporting documents for certain categories of applicants (e.g. bona fide travellers);

  2. Suspension of optional visa fee waiver for holders of diplomatic passports;

  3. Suspension of the maximum processing time (beyond 15 days);

  4. Suspension of the mandatory issuance of multiple entry visas with long validity.

Several officials of foreign ministry said, besides Bangladesh, European Commission recommended of restrictive measures for Iraq and The Gambia as well.

Former foreign secretary Touhid Hossain told Prothom Alo, “There is no alternative but to follow the agreement to take back the illegal migrants from Europe. If we fail to take effective measures to fulfil the agreement on time, they will naturally take such a decision.”

Bangladesh failed to keep commitment

The European Commission has submitted a 10-page report to the European Parliament and the European Council on visa requirements for Bangladeshis. The recommendation states that Bangladesh was failing to keep its commitment to issue travel documents for those whose identities would be confirmed after verifying the list sent to Bangladesh of illegal migrants. The situation has not improved since the introduction of the online system or Returnee Case Management System (RCMS) in November 2020.

The EU also expressed its dissatisfaction with Bangladesh at a meeting of the Joint Working Group held in June. According to the European Commission, a list of about 1,500 people was sent to Bangladesh online until 13 July. Of these, 195 have been confirmed as Bangladeshis. The embassy of Bangladesh has also issued travel documents to take them back to the country. The process of verifying the identities of 100 more people is underway. In addition, the issue of confirming the identities of additional 200 people will be completed through Interpol.

Meanwhile, a Bangladeshi delegation visited Malta on 10 June for a six-day visit to verify the identities of the illegal immigrants. At this time they interviewed 160 people. Foreign ministry officials say Germany has half of the 1,500 people listed by the European Union. The rest are in Malta, Greece and Italy.

Foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen told Prothom Alo that the process of implementing the SOP took some time due to various reasons, including working on Covid-19 and the new online system. However, the work has gained momentum in the last few months.

Seeking political asylum

According to the Bangladesh Embassy in Greece, about 30,000 Bangladeshis now work in farms, garment factories, restaurants and businesses in the country. At least 12,000 of them are legal in that country. And there are about two thousand Bangladeshis in Malta.

Ashud Ahmed, Bangladesh's ambassador to Greece and Malta, told Prothom Alo that Bangladeshis go to Malta, a southern European island, for transit before entering European countries, including Italy and Spain. Soon after, they apply for political asylum. But if rejected, they have to return to the country.

Bangladeshis try to enter Europe by various land and sea routes. Bangladeshis have been rescued from Bosnia, Croatia, Libya and Tunisia on their way to Europe illegally since the start of the Covid pandemic.

*This, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat