Bangladeshi migrants and unaccompanied children who have reached Italy as victims of trafficking have been sending remittance back home but their remittance is often used to repay their migration costs to traffickers in Bangladesh, an investigation found.
Unspecified numbers of traffickers in guise of recruitment agents remain active in Bangladesh and are involved in sending Bangladeshi migrants to Italy, pocketing the lion's share of remittance, it was revealed.
Unaccompanied minors and other migrants from Bangladesh continue to be smuggled to Italy through sea routes. At least 12,623 Bangladeshi nationals, including 316 unaccompanied and separated children from Bangladesh, have arrived in Italy from January to October in 2022 through sea routes, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Bangladesh Parliamentarians’ Caucus on Migration and Development’s secretary general, Mahjabeen Khaled, called for taking concerted efforts of stakeholders including government and non-government organisations, civil society members, development partners and trade unions to curb the smuggling of the migrants and children from Bangladesh.
She said Bangladeshi minors, especially school and college students, need to be aware about smuggling and the hardship of going to the European countries, especially Italy.
Mahjabeen Khaled said that political leaders including the MPs should take responsibility to create public awareness about the dangers behind the trafficking while speaking at public gatherings and visiting local schools, colleges and religious institutions.
Bangladeshi migrant Farid Ferdous (pseudonym) reached Italy when he was 17. Traffickers sent him to Italy through illegal routes of the Mediterranean Sea via Libya and the UAE.
His father Mohammad Hossen (55) provided Tk 1,200,000 (10,820 euro) to brokers in Shariatpur district to help his son reach the European country. An agent Hamid Rahman (pseudonym) was his maternal uncle who managed all travel documents including a passport for Farid. His age was shown to be 20 in his passport to facilitate international travel by air.
Actually nine-grader Farid left school and home with a visit visa of the UAE. The visa and travel have been managed by agents in Bangladesh, UAE and Libya.
The family encouraged Farid to go to Italy through a long perilous journey as his cousins went to Italy the same way and they were 'earning well'.
Farid reached Libya along with other Bangladeshis via Dubai. After a 10-month wait in Libya, he was put on a gambling boat to the Italy from the Libyan coast.
Farid finally reached Italy and he has been staying in the Rimini Displaced Persons' Camp in Italy for last one year. He has been attending language classes and, in the afternoon, he works in a toy store. He earns roughly of 400 euro a month and has been sending back remittance to his family.
“My son reached Italy in good health. He is staying now in a camp. He is attending language classes. In the afternoon he works outside the camp. He can send us Tk 40,000 monthly,” his father said.
Mohammad Hossen said that he was repaying the family loans which were used as cost of migration of his son. The family borrowed a big amount of money from some relatives to send Farid to Italy.
What migrant families say
The parents of 10 families that sent their sons to Italy were interviewed in Shariatpur, Madaripur, Kishoreganj and Sylhet districts in Bangladesh. They were asked about the process of sending their offspring to Italy, migration costs and remittance. All of them said that local agents managed travel documents and helped them send their sons to Italy.
The parents said that they paid between Tk 700,000 to Tk 1,700,000 each to local traffickers to send their sons to Italy. They sold cattle, land and borrowed money from relatives, NGOs and moneylenders to meet the migration costs.
About the remittance, most of them said that they were repaying the loans which were taken to pay the migration costs. They could not save the money because of their debts. The traffickers were benefitting from the remittance, they said.
Some families said that they have tried to build new houses and buy new electronic goods for their households with the remittance.
Remittance from Italy increases
Italy has been one of big sources of Bangladesh remittance as the largest destination country of Bangladeshi migrants in Europe. About 56,000 Bangladeshi migrant have legally gone to Italy with jobs over last 20 years, according to Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).
However, there are about 400,000 Bangladeshis unofficially living and working in Italy,
Bangladesh Bank data indicates that the country has received remittance of USD 980.93 million from Italy during last 10 months (January to October) of the current year. It received USD 738.79 million in 2021 and USD 712.43 million in 2020 from Italy.
We found that about 81 per cent of Bangladeshis arrived in Italy via Libya risking their lives. About 76 per cent of Bangladeshi migrants went to Italy on loan or with debts ranging from USD 10,000 to USD 12,000 eachShakirul Islam, chairman, OKUP
Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), a community-based migrant organisation in Bangladesh, has done several studies on human trafficking and risky journeys of Bangladeshi migrants to Italy.
OKUP chairman Shakirul Islam said that he visited different towns and areas in Italy while conducting his study on Bangladeshi migrants trafficked to Italy.
“We found that about 81 per cent of Bangladeshis arrived in Italy via Libya risking their lives. About 76 per cent of Bangladeshi migrants went to Italy on loan or with debts ranging from USD 10,000 to USD 12,000 each,” he said.
He found that many families in Bangladesh were forced to pay ransom money to the human traffickers who took children and migrants from Bangladesh, assuring the families that they would be sent to Italy.
Shakirul also found that the migrant families paid ransom money to human traffickers, selling lands and homes. So remittance sent by migrants from Italy was mostly spent on repayment of loans, he said.
*This article has been developed with the support of journalismfund.eu
*Md Owasim Uddin Bhuyan is a freelance journalist