May 17, 2019 / 5:56 PM / 8 days ago

Bangladesh arrests three trafficking suspects after migrant drownings

DHAKA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bangladesh arrested three suspects in a human trafficking ring on Friday after dozens of migrants from the South Asian country drowned trying to reach Europe, police said.

The arrests followed the deaths of at least 65 migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean last week after setting sail from Libya. About half were Bangladeshis and had been lured with false promises of lucrative jobs in Europe, the government said.

“These people spread lies and took advantage of those who wanted to go abroad,” said Sujoy Sarker, an officer with the Rapid Action Battallion, Bangladesh’s elite police force. Each victim had paid between $4,700 and $6,000, he added.

“Once in Libya, some of these migrants are trained to drive boats. These boats, packed with people, then attempt to cross the sea into Europe,” Sarker told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s largest exporters of manpower, with thousands travelling abroad every year to seek work.

But the hunt for these jobs depends largely on unlicensed brokers working in rural areas and opens the door to trafficking, campaigners say.

Bangladesh police arrested 1,310 people accused of trafficking, although just eight were convicted last year. Campaigners say the low conviction rate is a major obstacle to preventing human trafficking.

“The trafficking law, made seven years ago, isn’t being implemented properly and unless that happens, the number of victims won’t decrease,” said Shakirul Islam, head of the Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program which deals with migrant rights.

In a bid to curb exploitative tactics used by unscrupulous brokers and curb trafficking, the government launched a portal last month to connect job seekers to licensed recruitment agencies directly.

RAB said the victims who drowned last week had travelled to Libya through India, Sri Lanka, Dubai and Jordan all countries where the traffickers had agents.

Libya is a main departure point for migrants hoping to reach Europe by paying human traffickers, though numbers have dropped due to an Italian-led effort to disrupt smuggling networks and support the Libyan coast guard.

In the first four months of 2019, 164 people are known to have died on the route, with one dying for every three who reach Europe, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

Reporting by Naimul Karim @Naimonthefield; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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