Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen recently informed the parliament that there are 8,848 Bangladeshis in jails or detention centres of various countries. This is a matter of grave concern. Lack of legal assistance forces them to reamain behind bars year after year.
According to officials records, most of these Bangladeshis are detained in India, totalling 2,049 there. Another 1,156 are in Abu Dhabi, 693 in Bahrain, 572 in Malaysia, 768 in Saudi Arabia, 442 in Oman, 316 in Kuwait and 327 in Turkey. However, it is likely that the numbers are much higher. In 2017, the expatriate welfare minister said over 15,000 Bangladeshis had been held in foreign jails.
How could there be such a dramatic fall in the figure within two years? The government might say a section of the detained have been released due to its diplomatic steps. But local and international media are regularly publishing reports of fresh arrests of Bangladeshis in foreign countries. The government of Saudi Arabia has been arresting them for taking up jobs or joining companies illegally. This suggests their crime is that serious. Earlier, the Saudi government announced that they would help these persons with their work permits. That means helping them get released or changing their work papers is not a tough task.
On the other hand, most of those languishing in Indian jails were trafficked into that country. Human traffickers use India as a route to traffic them to other countries as well. The governments of both the countries should extend legal aid to them on an emergency basis, as it is not possible to free them without the help of the country where they are held.
A few years ago, a Bangladeshi was arrested in India as a murderer. It was later learned that he was arrested because of confusion over name. The government of India handed him over to Bangladesh as the incident came to light in the media. The government must take initiative to free those who are behind bars in India or other countries without committing any crime there. But the law will move at its own pace for the criminals. The Bangladeshi workers had a good reputation in foreign lands. That reputation cannot be destroyed just because of the actions of a few.
The foreign minister said taking up diplomatic initiatives to help the incarcerated Bangladeshis to return home is one of the main responsibilities of his ministry. But there is public perception that the ministry is not carrying out that responsibility properly.
A more effective role of the foreign ministry and Bangladesh missions in concerned countries is needed to help free those languishing in jails of those countries. The assistance of foreign human rights organisations can be taken, if necessary. At the same time, strong action is necessary against those persons or companies that are putting people into danger in the name of providing them good jobs in foreign lands.