Many victims still stranded at sea (The New Nation (Bangladesh))

A total of 2,385 Bangladeshi victims of human trafficking have been brought back home from Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia since June last year, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali told the parliament on Monday.

Of them, 738 from Malaysia, 728 from Myanmar, 781 from Indonesia and 138 from Thailand, he said while replying to a question raised by Jatiya Party lawmaker Md Shawkat Chowdhury (Nilphamari-4).

“The process is on to bring back the Bangladeshi human traffic victims stranded in different foreign countries, the Foreign Minister said. He informed the House that the present government has always been following the “zero tolerance” policy in containing heinous crimes like human trafficking. “We are deeply concerned over increasing human trafficking incidents, inhuman condition of the trafficked persons, discovery of mass graves and torture camps in Thailand and Malaysia, he said.

Mahmood said necessary directives have already been given to bring back the Bangladeshi human trafficking victims speedily. “A task force is working between Bangladesh and India to check human trafficking. Through this task force, regular bilateral meeting is being held between the concerned authorities of the two countries, he said.

Talking to The New Nation State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has said that the government continued to bring back Bangladeshi human trafficking victims after coordinating with the countries concerned.

“The Prime Minister has directed us to adopt zero tolerance against human trafficking and stern actions will be taken against any person involved in trafficking even if they are from politics or administration, he said. Meanwhile, a study report prepared by the Association for Law Research and Human Rights (ALERT) has said, 1.12 lakh Bangladeshi and Rohingya people have been trafficked into Malaysia and Thailand in the last three years and four months.

Apart from this, the study said thousands of human trafficking victims from Bangladesh and Myanmar are still stranded at sea. “We were given only very little food and water. When I asked for more I was beaten with sticks and metal rods, a Bangladeshi victim said, showing a two-inch gash on his back.

Based on newspapers and human rights organisations’ statements the ALERT study report said promising jobs in Malaysia, the organised international gang of human traffickers held hostage about 2.5 lakh Bangladeshis in Thailand for ransom over the last eight years and realised crores of taka from their relatives.

Being allured country’s many youths, mainly ill-educated from poor-family background, make the voyage in cargo vessels through sea to Thailand first, hoping to cross into Malaysia overland, it added. According to the study, before the jobseekers can make it to their final destination, their dreams turn into a collective nightmare.

They were held in crammed and filthy conditions in Thai jungles for months or even years and were often beaten and starved for ransom, the report said, adding Thailand is a strategic location for holding victims in remote mountains dotting that country’s coast.

The victims are not released from the Thai jungles until their Thai captors get confirmation from the traffickers in Bangladesh that they received ransom from the victims’ families. The study report said much of the ransom is transacted through mobile banking, and the traffickers and their brokers have underhand dealings with local agents of various mobile banking services.

Under pressure from the traffickers to pay the ransom by the deadline, helpless families sell their last pieces of land, often their homesteads, or take loans from local lenders at high interest rates, the report said. Information on the trade and its size is hard to come by due to its clandestine nature.

But victims and NGOs working on the issue say the network is spread over Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. According to a UN report released in December last year, about 53, 000 people from Bangladesh and Myanmar went to Malaysia and Thailand by sea that year alone.