The horrible days of 25 Bangladeshis in Afghanistan are finally over after 11 months as they landed at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka on Thursday.
Faruk Hossain, Harun Mia, Ratan Mia, Abdul Kader, Shohel Rana, Abdul Kuddus Ali, Tajul Miah, Manir, Shah Alam Hawlader, Irshad Dorji, Faridul Rahman Biswas, Nazmul Haque, Ahedul Islam, Roghonath Biswas, Shakil Ahmed, Ruhul Amin, Dey Sri Arun, Akbar Ali, Sakhaul Islam, Arif Hossain, Ripon Ali, Obayed Ali, Shubha Rahman, Masud, and Mohammad Rasel left Bangladesh in October last year to get jobs in a rolling steel mill in Afghanistan on assurance of a salary of $650 per month.
They alleged that they had been lured by an Indian citizen named Ram Prosad Roy. They had all been employed in Bangladesh.
Soon after they reached the foreign land and joined the mill named Afghan Folad Steel Mill Co Ltd in war-torn Afghanistan's Herat province, their agony started.
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A father, among the 25 who were stranded in Afghanistan, kisses her daughter at the airport upon arrival Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune
In the very first month, the mill authority took away their passports and stopped paying salaries.
“We were paid $400 every two months and then one day the mill stopped production,” said Tajul, hailing from Narayanganj.
Tajul told the Dhaka Tribune that he had to pay Tk127,000 to get the visa of Afghanistan.
“When the mill stopped operation the mill authorities confined us inside the mill and started threatening us. We had to starve very often as we were rarely provided with food. We became scared of how to overcome the situation and return to our country,” said Rasel, a resident of Matlab in Chandpur.
“One day, one of our Bangladeshi colleagues Ratan Mia took our group photo and posted it on Facebook,” Rasel said.
Ratan said: “After I posted the photo describing our situation, probably in June last year, I got a response from a Bangladeshi brother named Azam living in Afghanistan.”
CEO of Sadat Business Group Golam Azam, who came to the airport to receive the 25 Bangladeshis, said: “Actually I along with Azam Khan, another Bangladeshi living in Afghanistan who works for an Australian consultancy firm, drew the attention of Bangladesh government as well as Herat province authorities.”
The duo informed the Bangladesh Embassy in Tashkent of Uzbekistan about the plight of the Bangladeshis and the embassy contacted the Herat province authorities.
Then the Afghan authorities started providing food and security to the Bangladeshis from August last year.
The fate of these Bangladeshis, however, still remained uncertain as their visas expired just after a month of their arrival in Afghanistan and the owner of the mill did not give them any opportunity to renew their visas. So, heavy fines were imposed on them due to overstaying in Afghanistan as per Afghan rules.
Finally, when their fines were waived by the president’s office in Afghanistan, the process to bring them back to Bangladesh started, said Golam Azam.
Meanwhile, the Kabul office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) came to know about the situation and informed its Dhaka office.
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A number of the returned waited in the airport for their relatives to pick them up Mehedi Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
“The 25 Bangladeshis could come back to the country with the logistic support from the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh while the IOM provided them with tickets and other expenses,” IOM Dhaka office's National Programme Officer Mohammad Shakil Mansoor told the Dhaka Tribune.
The ill-fated Bangladeshis demanded arrest of the Indian citizen who they said is living in Bangladesh.
They also urged the government to realise their dues from the mill.
Rasel said: “Every one of us had spent Tk1.2 lakh to Tk1.5 lakh. We could not bring back any return. If the government intervenes, we believe we can get our dues.”