Human traffickers are targeting people of areas in Bangladesh affected by climate change

Dr Tasneem Siddiqui, founder chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), explains to Mahfuzul Haque why it is becoming increasingly easy for human traffickers to lure unfortunate Bangladeshis and Rohingyas to opt for the riskiest and illegal route to migrate to Malaysia



In recent weeks, thousands of trafficked Bangladeshis and Rohingyas have been rescued from camps in Thailand and the sea. Earlier, the police also recovered dead bodies from mass graves; among the dead bodies many were believed to be Bangladeshi and Rohingyas. Why are these groups becoming victims of human trafficking?
Mainly Bangladeshi citizens and Rohingyas are becoming victims of human trafficking through the sea routes. As we know Rohingyas are in a stateless situation, so a section of them tries to go to Malaysia through the sea routes for a better future. They are crossing to other countries in this way for many years. But the situation has worsened since 2012 when the mafias formed of traffickers in Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar realised this to be a money-making business. Earlier, they were crossed just by exchanging an amount of money, but now the traffickers hold these people for ransom. Moreover, sea pirates now kidnap these people and demand ransom.
When the local traffickers found the business profitable, they started to lure Bangladeshis to cross to other countries with hope of a better future. We know that a group of people of Narsingdi went in this route in 2010 and later some of them became traffickers. Over the next few years, these traffickers expanded their network across the country. We do not see the people from mainstream migration areas such as Chittagong, Comilla, Brahmanbaria, Tangail taking these routes. Rather the traffickers are targeting the people from Satkhira, Khulna, Jessore, Barguna, Rajshahi and Rangpur who are affected by climate change. These people are either jobless or landless; they were already habituated with seasonal migration within the country. When the traffickers lure these people by expending ten thousand takas, they find the chance lucrative either knowingly or unknowingly.

What kind of consequences do the trafficked people face?
Some of them end up in Malaysia and do jobs in plantation. Some others end up in Thailand to do jobs in fishing trawlers which is very dangerous. The fishing trawler job is not included in the Thai labour law, so the employers exploit the workers at their will. They lead a slave-like life.
The traffickers throw many of them into the sea if they fail to pay ransom. As hostages, they are kept in cages with no food. Many die after facing inhuman torture.

Trafficking has been increasing at an alarming level for decades now. Why do you think this is happening?
This is increasing due to inadequate protective measures from the government. For the last couple of years, we have been pressing the issue that illegal migration will be causing impediment to formal migration. If the employers find human resource who are trafficked illegally at cheap rates, then why will they recruit people who are migrating through formal channels? We are demanding the punishment of traffickers under Migration and Employment Act 2013 but we did not see the government filing any case against them. So the traffickers come out of prison within a week or two and then go back to trafficking again. As soon as any horrific incident like the recent ones occur, the concerned ministries talk about some initiatives, which stop a few days later with little progress being made.

Those who are rescued often disclose the names of people involved in the business. But no significant steps have been taken to stop this. Why is this happening?
The business is continuing because of massive corruption in it. We know that various vested interested groups, political leaders, some members of law enforcing agencies, local politically influential people are involved in the business.

What can be done to overcome the situation?
The government needs to adopt awareness campaigns targeting the people at the grassroots. These campaigns should include mike announcement, meeting with villagers, announcement through local radio, messages through posters, leaflet and so on. The government also needs to form an inter-states’ taskforce and hold meetings with them to cut the illegal migration.
The concerned ministries of Bangladesh government should hold coordination meeting regularly and adopt a coordinated approach to cope up with the irregular migration. After all, the government needs to be proactive.

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