• Saturday, Jun 25, 2022
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In search of the lost European dream

  • Published at 12:04 am May 14th, 2019

Migrant workers play an important role in Bangladesh’s economy sending $197,540.25m (Tk1,414,788.65 crore) to Bangladesh as remittances during this period

While Bangladesh has become an economic success story, this has not trickled down to all corners the country, prompting many to risk life and limb in search of a better life elsewhere; including the recent death of 37 Bangladeshi migrants off the Tunisian coast heading towards Italy, where six alone were from Sylhet.

Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) Coordinator and Professor of International Relations at Dhaka University CR Abrar said this was caused by Bangladesh’s “jobless growth.”

Some of the identified latest victims, the six deceased from Sylhet, whose names will soon be lost to the news cycle are Ahsan Habib Shamim, his brother-in-law Kamran Ahmed Maruf, Abdul Aziz, Ahmed, Liton, and Afzal Mahmud.

When the migrant crisis began in 2015 during the height of the Syrian war, many Bangladeshis too saw this as an opportunity to go through Libya and other North African countries to Europe. This became such a common practice that by the early quarter of 2017, Bangladeshi nationals had become the second-largest group arriving in Italy behind Nigerians, on a route more commonly used by migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, according to IRIN.

According to the Italian Ministry of Interior and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 4,645 Bangladeshi nationals arrived in Italy in April 2017. In April 2016, there were only three. In comparison, 5,253 Nigerians came in April 2017 and 4,311 in April 2016.

On June 18, 2017 the Bangladeshi embassy in Tripoli confirmed to Dhaka Tribune that an average of 30-40 Bangladeshis enter Libya on a daily basis to cross the Mediterranean to Italy by boat. “Though the Bangladesh government has banned citizens going to Libya due to the unstable situation, we hear daily of, and sometimes even see, numerous new Bangladeshis around. Most of them plan on going to Europe,” an official from the embassy of Bangladesh in Tripoli, requesting anonymity, told Dhaka Tribune.

As of April 2019, Bangladesh has exported 12,425,895 labour to 168 nations since 1976, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).

Migrant workers play an important role in Bangladesh’s economy sending $197,540.25m (Tk1,414,788.65 crore) to Bangladesh as remittances during this period, according to BMET data.

Last year, migrant workers sent $15,544.68m in remittance to the country.

A death trap

Twenty-one-year-old Ahmad Hossain of Fenchuganj upazila in Sylhet along with two others set off for Italy through the Mediterranean, in search of a brighter future.

But he was on the fateful boat carrying around 80 migrants that capsized off Tunisia.

His cousin Badrul Alam said an owner of a travel agency, Enam Ahmed lured Ahmad’s family as well as the others with dreams of better jobs in Italy in exchange for Tk8 lakh each.

“Upon paying Tk5 lakh in advance, the trio started their journey to Libya via Sri Lanka and Dubai on December 16, 2018. They were finally taken to Tripoli,” he said.

The rest of the money was paid after they reached the capital of Libya, Badrul said. 

Referring to Bilal Ahmed, who is among the 14 rescued, Badrul said the human traffickers kept the Europe-bound migrants in very poor conditions.

When Ahmad and his group finally started their voyage for Italy on Wednesday night, “They also phoned us before setting the sail, asking us to keep them in our prayers, ” Badrul said.

Although the boat had the capacity to carry some 40 passengers, the number of people onboard was double, he continued citing Ahmad.

“Bilal managed to swim ashore after 11 hours,” Ahmad said after talking to the survivor who is currently at a Tunisian Red Crescent camp along with nine other Bangladeshis.

According to the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS), four Bangladeshis who escaped the accident and are hospitalized in Tunisia reportedly saw over 60 deaths when the boat capsized.

The other 10 Bangladeshi survivors are at a local camp of the Red Crescent, the BDRCS said.

Strong deterrent?

After the migrant crisis, Europe began to swing sharply towards the right, voting in populist conservatives from England to Austria.

Italy followed suit, voting in the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and right-wing League that formed a coalition in 2018.

Then the government went on to shut down its ports to humanitarian rescue ships.

After that, the European Union stopped the sea patrols that have rescued thousands of refugees and migrants from the central Mediterranean, after Italy’s populist government threatened to veto the entire operation.

Operation Sophia, which has two vessels, as well as five planes and helicopters, was set up in 2015 to prevent loss of life at sea in a year when 3,771 people died or went missing attempting to reach Europe in rickety boats, reports the Guardian.

But the story isn’t that simple. Italy is in an economic crisis and the demand for cheap migrant labour has fueled economic migrants for decades. “There is a charade being played by the destination countries where they pretend to block illegal migration but the demand for cheap labour exists and that is why so many people go,” CR Abrar added.

He stressed on Bangladesh’s great bargaining power as a large labour exporter to the world at WTO negotiations on the movement of natural persons.

The movement of natural persons is one of the four ways through which services can be supplied internationally. Otherwise known as “Mode 4”, it covers natural persons who are either service suppliers (such as independent professionals) or who work for a service supplier and who are present in another WTO member to supply a service.

“This is an image crisis for Bangladesh, and the government should take this seriously and do something about it,” he added.

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