The Bangladeshi citizens, who have been stuck in the island nation for several months, apparently don’t want to come back, a Foreign Ministry official says
Although several months have passed, there is no visible progress in bringing back the 101 Bangladeshi nationals trafficked to Vanuatu.
The migrants, including two minors, have been stuck in the remote Pacific island nation since November, when four people were arrested on charges of trafficking them, and are living off handouts and rations.
After the incident came to light, the Bangladesh government and International Organization for Migration (IOM) asked their offices in Australia to verify that they were Bangladeshi nationals, which was later confirmed.
Victims of what could be the biggest human trafficking case in the Pacific region, the 101 Bangadeshis stuck in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, have said they have been tortured and abused.
However, return of these people has become difficult as most of them have disagreed to come back home.
Chiranjib Sarker, director general (consular) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Dhaka Tribune that when a team from Bangladesh High Commission in Canberra visited the trafficked Bangladeshis on Wednesday, they strongly protested the government’s efforts to bring them back home.
“At first, they had urged their home country to bring them back, but now they are not willing to go back… We are trying to convince them.”
A source from the IOM told the Dhaka Tribune that the organization had been facing a fund crisis to bring the stranded Bangladeshis back home.
When contacted, Chowdhury Asif Mahmud Bin Harun, national communications officer of IOM in Bangladesh, said the organization was still trying to bring them back.
A two-member team from IOM left Bangladesh for Vanuatu on April 21 to this end.
The victims were promised construction jobs with salaries up to $5,000 – roughly Tk421,845 – per month, Chiranjib said.
Many paid as much as $25,000 to go there, scrounging and mortgaging their homes in the process, he said.
The Foreign Ministry official also claimed that several allegedly trafficked Bangladeshis have been witnesses in a case filed over the issues which also made the return process difficult.
One of the largest exporters of manpower in the world, Bangladesh depends heavily on remittances from abroad. According to official data, at least one million Bangladeshis secured jobs overseas in 2017 – the highest number ever recorded.
But this depends largely upon unlicensed brokers working in rural areas and open doors to trafficking, campaigners say.
The 101 migrants are all male and say they were duped by a network of brokers from Tangail and Barisal who transported them to Vanuatu via India, Singapore and Fiji over the last two years.
For months, the group was forced to work long hours for no pay, kept in squalid conditions and given little food – often only rice and boiled cabbage.