Yaqub Hasan wanted to go to Italy from Libya through the Mediterranean in search of a better life. But he was captured by a mafia gang on his way. His mother Shahinur Akter could not trace his son despite paying ransom through the agents in phases.
At one stage, Shahinur left for Libya in search of her son. There, she roamed around from place to place looking for Yaqub Hasan for a month and a half and succeeded in tracking down her son eventually. Later, Yaqub was released with the help of the Bangladesh mission and International Organisation for Migration (IOM). But Shahinur couldn’t meet Yaqub immediately after his release as they were in different countries. The mother and her son finally met after returning home from two different countries last month.
No, it’s not a film script. It is a true story about Shahinur Akter, 45 and her son Yaqub Hasan, 20 from Kalikapur village in the Jafarganj union of Cumilla’s Debidwar upazila. The story of Shahinur, who rescued his son abroad without knowing any language except Bangla, is all over the area now.
Kalikapur village is located to the south bank of Gomti river embankment near the Cumilla-Brahmanbaria highway. Shahinur Akhter lives in a tin-shed house in that village. The mother and son shared their story with this correspondent in the backyard of that house on Monday afternoon.
The family members said that Shahinur’s husband Abul Khair went to Libya four years ago. He is involved in construction works there. Abul Khair took his only son Yaqub Hasan to Libya two months and 10 days after he arrived in Libya. Yaqub used to work there. At one point, Yaqub decided to go to Italy at the advice of his friends.
Yaqub left for Italy with a tourist visa after paying Tk 400,000 to Jahangir Alam, an agent from Habiganj. However, he was detained by the law enforcement agencies. He served one month in prison on that occasion. After being released, he once again started preparations for going to Italy and was caught again as well.
However, this time the family members couldn’t find any trace of him initially. After a month and a half, the agents contacted Shahinur and his husband over the phone. Those agents swindled at least Tk 1.8 million from the family in phases, the family members alleged.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Shahinur Akter said her two daughters were married and her husband and son lived in Libya. Shahinur’s husband also arranged a passport for her to take her to Libya on 31 July 2019. But she did not want to go.
Later, after knowing about her son’s misery, she left for Libya on 9 January this year. Four days later, she reached Libya via Dubai and Egypt.
Shahinur said, “Yaqub’s father took me to Benghazi from the airport. However, we couldn’t find any trace of my son for the first one and a half months there. Later, we got information that my son was kept in a cave near Tripoli along with hundreds of youth.”
“After that, I contacted the Bangladesh mission in Libya and the IOM. Although they showed me a lot of photos, I couldn’t identify my son at first. Later, I noticed an ailing boy in a deteriorated physical state who looked just like my son. It was my boy, Yaqub. After that we were confirmed about my son’s survival,” the mother added.
I took loans on interest and sold my ornaments and our cow to arrange money for going to Libya. It cost me Tk 400,000 in total. I am mired in loans now. However, I got back my son and that is enough for me
She said, “The IOM officials contacted the Libya government and rescued Yaqub. They made arrangements for me to talk to my son over the phone. At the time, all I wanted was to see my son. However, I couldn’t meet him while in Libya. My son was in Tripoli and I was in Benghazi.”
Yaqub Hasan said, “I served one month in prison for trying to enter Italy illegally from Libya on my first attempt. Later, I tried to go to Italy again for the second time. This time, we were taken to Lampedusa island on a trawler. At least 1,500 people, who wanted to go to Italy, were taken to that island. We were kept there for a few days. We suffered a lot for food there.”
Yaqub further said, “But we were captured by mafias at the Zawya island on our way to Sicily in Italy from Lampedusa. Later, we were taken to a prison in Libya which was quite reminiscent of a dark cave. We had to survive there in inhuman conditions. I didn’t have a passport at the time.”
While in confinement, Yaqub had to endure inhuman torture. There were thousands of signs of torture all over his body. He still cannot speak properly. He is also having troubles with his memory.
Shahinur Akter said, “I took loans on interest and sold my ornaments and our cow to arrange money for going to Libya. It cost me Tk 400,000 in total. I am mired in loans now. However, I got back my son and that is enough for me.”
“While in Libya, I talked to Yaqub over the phone. But it was not possible to meet him in person. Yaqub returned to the country on 10 March while I returned on 16 March. I am quite happy to have my son back.”
Debabrata Ghosh, assistant director of the district employment and manpower office in Cumilla, discouraged illegal immigration abroad, saying, "It’s illegal to migrate in this way to another country. We always try to make people aware about this.”
*This report appeared on the online version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu