Victims were forced into prostitution after going to Dubai with dreams of luxurious life and high salary
Sinthia (not her real name) used to work as a dancer at different clubs in Dhaka.
She used to bear all the expenses of her family, including the costs of the education of her elder sister and younger brother, with the money she earned from dancing.
One day, one of her female co-workers told her she was going to Dubai as a result of a lucrative job opportunity opened up for her through an agent named Nirmol Das. She would earn Tk50,000 every month at a five star hotel there. And, of course, she would not have to spend any money of her own to go there.
The co-worker advised Sinthia to go to Dubai with her. Thinking that such an opportunity would make it easier for her to bear the expenses of her family, Sinthia contacted Nirmol Das about going to Dubai.
Sinthia shared her experience as a victim of sex trafficking with Dhaka Tribune on Thursday.
She said she met Mizan through Nirmol. Mizan is the younger brother of sex trafficking ring leader Azim Uddin alias Mozahar alias Azam Khan, who was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of police recently.
Sinthia said one day Mizan took her out in his private car and told her that her family would get Tk50,000 a month through mobile banking if she went to Dubai.
He also told her she would get a month’s advance payment before flying off to Dubai.
At one point, Mizan took her near Karnaphuli Garden City Shopping Complex and pointed to a building next to it and said her would-be sponsors had an office on the second floor. However, Sinthia didn’t go to the office that day.
A few days later Nirmol called her to tell her that she would be sent to Dubai very soon and therefore she needed to have a passport.
Nirmol asked for Tk20,000 for the passport, Sinthia said, before adding: “I had to borrow the money from someone.”
Later she went to Narayanganj passport office with Nirmol to have her photo taken for the passport. Nirmol told her to show Jhalkuri in Narayanganj as her permanent address, although she was actually from Jhalokati.
“I got my passport without any problems or police verification within 21 days,” said Sinthia, who was only 16 at the time.
In mid-2019, a week after receiving her passport, Sinthia had her flight to Dubai. On the day, Mizan took her to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport along with another girl. They didn’t even have to talk to the immigration police.
Later they got their visas and boarded a flight of Emirates Airlines.
After Sinthia got on the plane, Mizan gave Tk40,000 to Sinthia’s elder sister at the airport as Sinthia’s advance payment.
Taking advantage of young girls with luxurious life
Azam Khan and his sex trafficking ring used to send girls like Sinthia to Dubai by entrapping them with dreams of a luxurious life and high salaries.
The victims claimed they were forced into prostitution in Dubai in the name of manpower export by the trafficking ring. If any girl objected to their activities, she would face horrible torture, including physical abuse, being locked up in a small room or being sprayed with hot water.
CID Senior ASP Ziasn Ul Haque said Azam and his gang had trafficked a lot of men and women to Dubai. Many of the victims had to go through inhumane and degrading experiences.
“Those who have tried to contact us and the Bangladesh Embassy in the UAE, we have tried to rescue them and arrest the people involved in this,” he said.
The CID official added that those who are victims of human trafficking or their families could contact the CID for help.
This correspondent visited the building that Mizan, Azam Khan’s brother, had claimed to Sinthia was their office. However, residents of that building claimed there was no office in that building.
Regular torture by traffickers
According to the victims, the members of the trafficking ring would force them into prostitution. They would not get enough food or even the monthly payments they were entitled to on a regular basis.
Because of the inhuman conditions they were trapped in, the victims contacted the Bangladesh Embassy in Dubai for help. Later the embassy officials contacted the local law enforcement authorities to rescue them and send them back to Bangladesh.
On June 16 this year, Sinthia and two other girls returned to Bangladesh. Sinthia was in City Tower Hotel in Dubai, which is owned by Azam Khan.
Sinthia and another victim told Dhaka Tribune: “We lost our dignity after going to Dubai. Even then, if we had food three times a day and got paid at the end of the month, we would still live there just for the sake of our families.”
The victims said they would take 4000 Dirham or Tk1 lakh from their customers in Dubai. Hotel Manager Alamgir would take all the money, including the tips they would get from their customers.
According to the victims, there were 25 girls at the hotel.
Another victim who returned from Dubai told Dhaka Tribune: “I once asked Alamgir to give me Tk20,000 as my mother was sick. Then Azam said that I was pretending.”
Sinthia said Azam owed her Tk19.50 lakh in monthly wages and tips from customers. She wanted the court to have Azam give her the money.
Connections with the authorities
The victims claimed that the trafficking ring had connections with the passport office and airport immigration.
The Special Branch (SB) of police handles passport verification and immigration.
According to the victims, the criminals were taking help from some members of SB despite the CID arresting Azam.
Immigration expert Asif Munir told Dhaka Tribune that fraudulent activities like travelling on another person’s document was easy when handwritten passports were issued.
“Now we have machine readable passports (MRP) or e-passports. Yet government policies and systems are always to be blamed for human trafficking,” the official said.
“Once smart cards would get stolen from the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET). Besides, when a worker goes to another country, BMET and immigration is supposed to check. But if there is no verification, then this is not only the human traffickers’ fault,” Asif Munir added.
He said: “Those who go to other countries are not that skilled. So they do not have that many job opportunities there. They don’t even know they are doing something wrong. That is why we see human traffickers sending people to Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain.
The immigration expert advised the government to monitor one organization through another organization.
“As the CID is doing a great job, the government should also use the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Otherwise, these incidents will tarnish the country’s image and negatively impact on the labour market,” he added.
What the authorities say
Head of Special Branch (SB) Additional Inspector General Mir Shahidul Islam said: “It’s impossible to go to a foreign country without immigration.”
He also said if someone gives specific information about providing a passport without police verification, they will investigate the issue.
Following the arrest of Azam Khan, CID DIG Imtiaz Ahmed told the media that Azam used to send girls to Dubai on tourist visas. Azam also had three other associates – one in Pakistan and two in India – who used to send girls to Dubai by the same method.
According to officials involved in the investigation, the victims used their passports for the first time to go to Dubai. These victims came from lower or lower middle class families and couldn’t have shown a bank statement to get visas for Dubai.
The law enforcement agencies therefore suspect the involvement of someone at the UAE embassy in Dhaka. At the same time, airlines companies could be involved too since they issued one-way tickets to the victims on their tourist visas.