Desperate trips on deadly routes
Illegal migration to Europe
Staff Correspondent: KabirMatubbar (not his real name) took an illegal route to Italy from Bangladesh in 2015. The trip included a daring boat journey in the Mediterranean Sea from Libya.
He paid about Tk 6 lakh to traffickers for this migration and left behind a well-run grocery shop in Madaripur, his home town.
But his attempt failed after the migrant boat carrying him was intercepted by the authorities in the Mediterranean. He landed at a refugee camp in Italy, where he was sheltered for five months.
“It was a risky journey. When we were in the middle of the sea, it seemed everything will end here,” he said.
Later, he tried to get work as an undocumented migrant in Italy but failed, and subsequently had to return home empty-handed in 2016.
Kabir, 33, said “successes” of his neighbours in Madaripur, who entered Italy illegally and made their fortune, tempted him to take the risky journey.
“Now, I feel it’s better to do something in Bangladesh,” said Kabir, a father of two, who now runs the old grocery shop to earn a living.
Kabir’s story is not uncommon as many Bangladeshis take illegal and risky journeys on different Mediterranean routes spending hefty sums of money to “fulfil their dream” of making a fortune in Europe.
While many can cross the European border illegally, tragedies such as drowning by boat capsize and hostage taking by traffickers also make global headlines.
Migrant rights groups said multiple factors, including temptation to upgrade their “social status” and make a fortune, act as the main drivers for many Bangladeshis to migrate illegally to Europe.
They said there are certain “pockets” in different districts from where illegal migration to Europe is frequent. Besides, trafficking gangs are active in these areas to lure aspirant migrants.
To reduce illegal migration to Europe, they suggested taking inter-governmental action, conducting round-the-year drives against traffickers at home, and making legal migration easier.
According to European Border and Coastguard Agency, Frontex, 26,820 illegal border crossings by Bangladeshis on five Mediterranean routes were detected between 2017 and 2021.
In January-February this year, Frontex detected 1,442 illegal border crossings by Bangladeshis on the five routes. Only 431 such border crossings were detected during the same time last year.
Frontex data represent the detections of illegal border-crossing rather than the number of persons, as the same person may cross the external border several times.
In the past five years, 22,637 illegal border crossings by Bangladeshis were made on Central Mediterranean Sea route alone, which falls between Libya and Italy, Frontex data show.
Last year, Bangladeshis made 7,848 illegal border crossings on Central Mediterranean Sea route, up from previous year’s 4,447.
According to Brac Migration Programme, people from eight to 10 districts across Dhaka, Faridpur and Sylhet regions spend up to Tk 15 lakh each to migrate to Europe illegally.
Shariful Hasan, head of Brac’s Migration Programme, said those who attempt to migrate to Europe illegally are not necessarily from the low-income groups.
Many of them opt to reach Europe to change their “social status”, he said.
Brac has found 18 different routes that traffickers use for illegal migration to Europe from Bangladesh, Shariful said.
Now traffickers have become more active in the Middle East targeting “unsuccessful” Bangladeshi migrant workers there to traffic them to Europe, he said.
He added inter-governmental action is required to end migrant trafficking since it cannot be done by one country alone.
Shakirul Islam, chairperson of OvibashiKarmiUnnayan Program, said creating legal channels is essential to reduce illegal way of migration.
Citing Bangladesh government’s recent deal with Greece to send workers there legally, Shakirul said such opportunities should be opened up in other European countries.
As a “champion” of Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), Bangladesh can raise the issue of illegal migration in different global forums, he suggested.
ArfanulHaque, labour welfare counsellor at Bangladesh Embassy in Italy, said Italy started taking seasonal and non-seasonal workers from Bangladesh and other countries.
Besides, Bangladesh is trying to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Italy for legal migration of workers from Bangladesh, he told this newspaper by phone.
He added Bangladesh government is trying to address illegal migration while at community level in Italy, the embassy tries to build awareness among Bangladeshis to discourage their relatives back home to take illegal migration.
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