Bangladeshi Refugees: Crossing Death Valleys, Passing Days in Agony

Riazul Islam, Mir Zabeda Yeasmin and Hossain Abdul Hai

Kabir Hossain (Pseudonym) is now above thirty. Kabir, born in a district in the northern part of Bangladesh, left his home country about three years ago. Firstly he worked about six months in a construction firm in Dubai. At that time he heard about lot of lucrative opportunities of having good jobs and of earning huge amount of money in the European countries. He came to know many human traffickers. They extended the lucrative offer of reaching his dreamland in Europe for only small amount of money.   

Kabir is not the only Bangladeshi, who has crossed the large highways and unfathomable oceans with the help of the traffickers. Their aim was to step in Europe with the flow of the refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries. Most of them targeted to reach Germany. These unskilled and semi-skilled laborers had no idea, what terrible sufferings were waiting for them on the way to Europe. They also did not know what an uncertain life they had to face after coming to Germany crossing such a long distance. The investigative report by Our Voice team has explored some of the tragic and fatal scenario of their risky way to Europe.   

Early and Neglected Death on the Way

Kabir said, “I heard many stories, that people can earn huge money going abroad. So with this dream I went first to Dubai. There I heard that the way to Europe is very risky and difficult. It also costs huge amount of money and people are also to bear heavy torturing. So I left the plan of going to Europe and I contacted a trafficker to go to Saudi Arabia. But in the name of Saudi Arabia, he sent me to the direction of Europe. In a very dark night he made us cross the deep forest and stony mountains to enter the border of Oman. From there we had to cross the Arabian Sea with a speed boat. There was always so serious jerking in the boat, that in the crowd of excess number of people many were trampled to death. Many of us sustained the damage of some organs. Some of us could not bear the hard jerking and the fatal situation in the roaring sea and jumped into the sea. In such a way, the traffickers took us to Beluchistan in Pakistan and handed over to other traffickers, who brought us to Iran.”

Umar Faruk has gone under the same experience. He also reached Europe via Iran from Dubai. He crossed the very billowy sea in a dark night. There were few more Bangladeshis inside the boat with Umar. Some of them lost their lives during this boat journey. Umar Faruk said, “no relative in the country comes to know the information of these migrants, who lost their lives on the way. I have always intention and try, if I can meet any friends and relatives of them, I will inform them about the death of those migrants. But during the boat journey, we were allowed to keep nothing with us except the single cloth, which we wore. So I could not preserve any address or contact number of anybody.”  

Inhuman Persecution by Traffickers

Sustaining the hazardous death traps on the way, about one and a half year ago Salim Hoque (Pseudonym) from the South Bengal reached Germany. With the help of traffickers he came to Turkey from Kuwait t via Iraq and Qurdi region of Syria. In his words, “With the dream and expectation of earning huge money and building a bright future, I started for Europe. I made a contract with trafficker to pay USD 2300 to come to Turkey from Bagdad. But when we reached at Kurdistan near the border area of Syria, the trafficker kept us in a solitary house there. He confined us in a small room and making us complete undressed robbed everything what we had valuable with us. In spite of that they demanded more money from us. They always carried pistol and targeting their pistol at our heads compelled us to call back home to demand more money for them. We seven were confined in that house for about one month. Even at the face of rigorous torture by the traffickers we were compelled to pay the extra money within one week. Later on they sent us to Syria. There occurred also the same torture and pressure for money. Whenever we reach any new country, we are handed over to new traffickers and each time they demand extra money. In an early morning in the chilly winter they took us upon a large mountain just running about two hours. Whenever somebody could not run at a pace, they were rudely beaten and if somebody could not run at all, they were left behind without any help or rescue effort,” informed Salim.      

The experience of Kabir, who crossed Iran through the highway, was much more terrible. He said, “Where as we had a contract with the trafficker of about 50 Thousand Taka, after arriving in Iran they demanded for three to four hundred thousand Taka. As some of us could not fulfil their demand of huge amount of money, the traffickers cut the fingers and toes. Even they uprooted the eyes of some refugees.” He added, while crossing a border, we had to climb up a large mountain whole night from 7 pm till 6 am. This time some of us fell down the valleys and died. But the traffickers did not care or rescue them. Sometime the border guards also fired and some of us were shot dead. But the stone-hearted traffickers were not at all perturbed.”   

Crossing the Sea by a Small Boat

Masum left his motherland about four years ago. Like many other countrymen, he was also prey to the war of the Middle East. To turn the own fate he arrived in Germany crossing the sea. At first he went to Egypt. Somehow he managed a petty job there. But the situation in Egypt turned volatile. So he was compelled to flee to Libya crossing the desert. He got a job in an oil company there. About two years he has worked there and managed to save some money. But then started the civil war in Libya. As a result many Bangladeshi migrant workers including Masum lost their work and fell in a life risk there. Masum did not want to go back home, as he went abroad taking a big amount of loan. If he goes back home, all dreams will go in ruin. So he decided to reach Europe throwing his life into a serious risk. He handed over his saved money to the trafficker and committed to cross the sea. If it is once possible to arrive at the other side of the sea, there is no more tension, confirmed the trafficker. For that sea trip they took 90 Thousand Bangladeshi Taka. But Masum could not guess what a terrible situation was waiting for him.    

From the border of Libya he crossed the sea by a small wooden boat and arrived in Europe. Masum was kept in the engine room of the 40 feet long boat. The engine room was about 20 feet long, but there were about 70 people crammed down in this small engine room. “I could not guess what was happening at the upstairs, during the whole journey I was sitting in the engine room. There was no seat in the engine room. Traffickers forced all of us to be placed one above others. There was no room to move. Whole day and night I got nothing to eat or drink, but a little water. Even there was no gate to enter the engine room, they forced us to slip into the engine room through a small hole,” said Masum.      

Traffickers forced all migrant labourers to ride the boat, gave a direction map to a Tunisian man and ordered him to row the boat ahead. In the middle of the sea the old engine was out of order. Luckily a Ghanaian refugee aboard could repair the engine and somehow we crossed the sea. “Hearing the boat, I thought it might have been a wooden boat of our village. But we were not allowed to say anything. If anything said, they would have beaten or even they would have thrown to the sea,” while remembering the horrific experience he said. Masum has handed about four hundred thousand Bangladeshi Taka to the traffickers in six months for his way to Europe.    

Not only from Libya, but also from Turkey many Bangladeshi people have entered Europe in the same way. Kabir is one of them. He informed, “From the colleagues I came to know that it is now easy to enter Germany along with the Syrian refugees. Even we do not need to contact any broker for that. One day I heard that people can easily travel to a Greek island with a boat from the Badrun city of Turkey. Four to five persons can travel with that rubber boat. But it was loaded with ten passengers and we got only two oars. In the middle of the sea the boat was leaked and the pump was out. It was about 3:00 to 4:00 at night. In the risk of life all started to cry, as the beach was still far away. In this way I had to swim at least two hours in this sea. In this dying moment a fishing trawler was going in that way. But they did not heed at our scream. But some time later the trawler came back and rescued us.”

Future of Uncertainty

What are these unskilled labourers getting after arriving in Europe throwing their lives in a serious risk? German federal law does not allow any refugee to work, as the state takes the responsibility of their livelihood. So these Bangladeshi migrant workers have fallen in a serious dilemma after stepping in Germany as refugee. On the one hand they do not have legal work permit and they do not have any way to earn legally. Consequently they are trying to work in some hotel and restaurants secretly. Taking this opportunity the restaurant-owners are depriving these illegal workers from their fair wages.

Masum has passed only primary school in Bangladesh. Later on he worked in an automobile workshop of his uncle. But after coming to Germany he is now working in a restaurant. Almost every day he can come back home at about 2:00 to 3:00 at night after completing his work. For the hard work of about nine hours he gets only 60 Euro, which is very lower than the standard wage level. Even after earning some money in this illegal way, they have much more sufferings to send money back home. Masum informed, he has to use the passport of some other person to send money to the country. For this purpose, he has to use the passport of his employer or some other broker. For this reason, he has to pay extra 100 to 150 Euro.

The Bangladeshi migrant workers, who came to Germany as refugees, have been thus paying the price in every level. Many of them think to go back home. Many have fled to other European countries. Jahid, who came with Masum, has already fled to Greece. Refugees Nur Mia, Mofajjol and others are much disappointed, as they are now experiencing totally different realities, than what they thought earlier. Originated from Sylhet Mofajjol said, “If German government sends him back, he likes to go back to Bangladesh. It is not possible to live here in such a way. After spending hundred thousand Taka for the difficult travel route, it is of no benefit to live here without any work.” Salim said, “I expected that if I arrive in Germany with the Syrian refugees, probably I could get a legal work permit here. But the reality is that most of the asylum cases from Bangladeshi migrant workers are being rejected.”      

Bangladeshi refugee Kabir has already spent about 15 hundred thousand Bangladeshi Taka for the risky travel to Germany. But he could have set up some small business with that amount of money, if he would have been in Bangladesh. He said, “Being angry with the family members I decided for a migrant life. After spending so many years outside illegally, there is no certainty to have a legal identity.” Nur Mia from Hobigonj left his country about two decades ago. The target was to step in Europe by any means. But now he thinks, “so many years have been wasted from my life. So now I have left everything on my fate”. These Bangladeshi migrant workers, who have reached Germany as refugees and are passing days in an uncertainty of deportation or legal identity, show the gloomy picture of the illegal migration in Europe.

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