At least 94,000 people from Bangladesh inclining to migrate to foreign countries had been trafficked in the last one and half year, says a United Nations High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR] report titled South-East Asia Mixed Maritime Movement April- June 2015. Some of them are refugees from bordering Myanmar who generally are known as Rohingya. More than 1,100 among them are believed to be died or killed by the traffickers at sea.
Human trafficking has surfaced as an immensely profitable “business” in Bangladesh in recent past. “But the trend has been going on for more than a decade,” claims Shariful Islam, a Bangladeshi activist working for welfare to immigrants since 2001.
Smugglers usually lure people from lower income groups who tend to try their lucks adopting irregular ways. Md. Mosharaf was one among them who thought Malaysia would be a place to income plentiful money.
“I had no savings due to a small income,” says the weaver from Narsingdi. “I thought I’d be able to save a good amount of money after spending a few years in Malaysia.”
Secondly, “The smugglers target people especially from landlocked areas who have no idea about the dangers of travelling through sea routes,” says Asif Munier, National Programme Officer at International Organization for Migration [IOM].
The world was stunned when over 200 graves were discovered near smugglers’ camps along the Thailand-Malaysia border in May this year. The unfortunates were believed to be Bangladeshi and Myanmar nationals.
At least 5,000 refugees and migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were found stranded at sea in May, when the people smugglers and ship crews who had promised to take them to Malaysia abandoned them en masse in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.
UNHCR estimates that over 1,000 additional passengers are believed to still have been on smugglers’ boats who remain unaccounted for.
From May till August is relatively an unfavorable spell for smuggling people due to the billowy sea in rainy season. However, the trade gets a momentum in September that goes on until March when the sea remains moderately calm. The traffickers take help of pirates on the Bay of Bengal to disembark migrants to the destinations.
The smugglers do not treat people on board as human beings. They beat ruthlessly if anyone wanted to move, bath or even to urinate. The people who wanted to seek fortune actually experienced hell on the sea.
The traffickers and the pirates are as cruel as slaughterers. Rezaul Karim and his cousins Taizul Islam and Tareq Molla got trapped in the net of a smuggler from
Sirajganj. Unaware about the consequences, the minors thought it might be a fun to migrate to a foreign land without spending even a penny.
The roughness of the sea was unimaginable to them. “We were terrified to see the waves. A wave was as tall as the size of two to three men together,” Rezaul remembers.
But the faces of greed are harsher than that of the terrifying sea. Starvation, sleeplessness and tortures were quite common. They encountered an even worse and shivering incidence of on the wide-open sea.
The minors saw people dying in front of their eyes suffering from different seaborne diseases. Yet coldblooded manslaughter by the smugglers was unthinkable to these teenagers. “The traffickers ripped apart the corpses and threw them away to the sea.”
Nazmul Hossain went through the same experience, “We were 223 people on the ship. Three died and they just threw the bodies away straightway!”
He saw “almost 90 percent people got sick” on the trawler he boarded. “Many people didn’t have any clothes as they got dirty due to defecation and peeing,” said the young man from Sirajganj, a northwestern district in Bangladesh.
The 20-year-old said, “There was no way to sleep. We just sat through the whole journey. The ‘captains’ didn’t let anyone to stand up.”
He was caught up along with his uncle and other 50 people by Thai police after landing from the boat. But business is everywhere! “Thai police sold my uncle to a different trafficker.”
However, Nazmul managed to abscond and trespass in Malaysia border. Almost naked with wearing only a shorts, he kept hiding in daylights and running in night. Barely could satisfy his empty stomach with a piece of pineapple or papaya.
He ran and ran until arriving Kangar. Sometimes on roads and at times through the forests. “I went down straight to the roadside drains whenever a policeman was on sight.”
Nazmul eventually got arrested and remained in a Malaysian detention camp more than five months before repatriation. His family had to spend some taka 200,000 to get him back in Bangladesh.
The teenager trio got back to their home after a six-month-long nightmare too. But mistreatment did not end yet. “Some policemen asked each of us to pay them taka 5,000 right after we landed on the airport in Dhaka. ‘Only then we’ll release you’, they said” Rezaul alleged.
But not necessarily everyone was lucky like them to get back to homeland.
Ramzan Ali and Shawkat Ali, Safura Begum’s two sons boarded a fishing boat with view to migrating to Malaysia three years back. She hopes they are still alive as an
investigation officer at Cox’s Bazar confirmed they have been serving a jail term in Myanmar.
Abul Kalam might have got the same fate, beliefs his wife. Khodeza Begum’s husband sailed away from Teknaf toward Malaysia. That was an Eid day when he left six children behind three years back. She later came to know that Kalam sold his grocery shop at taka 20,000 and took off from an “airport” at Sabrang village along with two more friends.
“Airport” is a popular guff in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong regions. These are some infamous spots, which are used to smuggle people intending to migrate to Malaysia or Thailand. If someone gives money or promises to do so later, she or he is escorted through the “airport”; no matter they have visa and ticket.
Khodeza has been struggling to make a living with six kids. The grocer’s wife hopes he is at least alive, be it in a prison on an unknown land. She believes that if the story is published it will help bringing her husband back.
Some 626 trafficking victims were repatriated from Myanmar by IOM till September. At least 228 people including 210 male, 10 female ando 8 children are in the transit center in the Rakhine State.
Figures available at IOM, as of August 10, indicate at least 1107 Myanmar and Bangladeshi remain in Immigration Detention Centers
But Tara Sheikh even does not have that condolence. The fruit seller from Sirajganj is not sure if his son is anymore or not. Elias Sheikh had a brief phone call with his father after leaving his home before he headed for
Malaysia. Sheikh senior has no idea where his son is right now as nine months have passed meanwhile.
The disappearance of Elias took his parents in a depressed state.
“My heart goes burning always on,” said Lilly Khatun. “As if a fire is set in there. There’s always a combustion due to the absence of my son Elias,” wife of Tara Sheikh bemoans.