Things that make you to Think

Bangladesh’s indigenous people also in the same boat

Far from the depths of the Andaman Sea and the jungles of South-east Asia, a Bangladeshi man weeps for his dead relatives.

The story of his two brothers and uncle – all now dead –  gives life to the bones being discovered in Thailand and Malaysia, unearthing the perils of human trafficking and laying bare how modern-day slavers bleed their victims dry.

His story and those of others show how Bangladesh’s indigenous communities have been affected by the boatpeople crisis.

Mongkhain Chakma’s eyes are wet from grief and bitterness as he sits down to speak to this reporter near what used to be his family home.

Mongkhain Chakma, in front of the house he sold to pay ransom, tells how his brothers and maternal uncle died in a Thai trafficking camp. Photo- Abid Azad

Mongkhain Chakma, in front of the house he sold to pay ransom, tells how his brothers and maternal uncle died in a Thai trafficking camp.
Photo- Abid Azad

The homestead in Amtoli village, Hoyaikkong Union in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, was sold a few months ago to pay the ransom demanded for his two elder brothers who were held captive by traffickers in Thailand.

His brothers Ajay Chakma, 29, and Mongthain Chakma, 24, along with their maternal uncle, Tui Mong Sing Chakma, disappeared on October 15, 2014.

On December 19, a man identifying himself as Dil Mohammad called Mongkhain and told him his brothers and uncle were in Thailand. “He [Dil Mohammad] asked for Tk1,80,000 for each of the them to freed.”

“I felt like the earth beneath me had given way; I had nothing solid to stand on. My father left us when I was 17. My mother is an old woman,” Mongkhain said.

Ajay, a farmer, was married and had a boy and a girl. Mongthain was an HSC first-year student at Ukhiya Degree College.

Mongkhain also has a younger brother, Rintu Chakma.

After Dil’s call, Mongkhain’s brothers told him on the phone that they were being held as captives. They said they were being tortured and starved. The brothers spoke a few times in the intervening period.

Ten days after the first phone call Mongkhain got another call from his brothers. “They told me my maternal uncle had died a few hours ago due to severe torture and a lack of food and medical treatment.”

“‘We just buried him in the nearby jungle,’ they told me. My brothers begged me to pay the ransom otherwise they would be killed,” Mongkhain said.

“On January 11, 2015, I got another call. Mongthain told me Ajay had died.

“He said: ‘I could not go to bury our brother as I am quite ill. Please save me,’” Mongkhain recalls.

A week later, a man identifying himself as a guard at the Thai trafficking camp called Mongkhain and told him Mongthain had died.

“My mother and Rintu wept and wept,” Mongkhain said.

Before their death, Mongkhain sent ransom money in the hope of getting them back.

He had paid a total of Tk3,60,000 to the traffickers, in two equal instalments. One payment was made to an Islami Bank Teknaf branch savings account on January 1, 2015. Another payment was made in cash.

Both payments were taken by one Minu Ara Begum, through the Islami Bank account and in cash.

Mongkhain also paid Tk10,000 for medical treatment for his brothers via bKash.

Mongkhain managed to put together Tk1,50,000 from selling the house. The rest of the amount was managed through personal loans.

“This land and house were our only assets,” he says. Mongkhain’s mother now lives by rotation with different relatives. His younger brother, Rintu, has found a job as a salesman in Dhaka and earns Tk3,000.

“We have no land and no house. I have nowhere to sleep. I lost my father many years ago. I have lost my two elder brothers. I owe a huge amount of money. I don’t know how I can repay the loans,” he says.

Another indigenous man who died en route to South-east Asia is Uthengo Tongchonga, 20, a day-labourer, from Horikola Tongchongapara under Hoyaikkong Union, Teknaf Upazila.

His family was told a few days ago that he has died.

Eight months ago, Uthengo left for Malaysia. His father Mongkhiyo Mong first paid Tk1,90,000 to brokers Gofur and his brother Sattar, both from their village.

A month later, he again paid Gofur Tk40,000 and later another Tk16,000 for medical purposes.

“My son told me he had become paralysed. ‘I cannot eat anything. I have no strength, father,’ he told me,” Mongkhiyo recalled as Uthengo’s mother Roymong Sing weeps.

As per instructions from people smugglers in Thailand, they paid another Tk25,000 in cash to a broker named Mia. The money was managed by taking personal loans and selling their land as well as domestic animals, Mongkhiyo said.

Despite making the required payments, they got no word of their son.

“After eight months, Mia told us Uthengo was no more,” he said.

“When I told Mia to return my money or my son’s dead body, he threatened me.

“But I did not go to the police because I do not have money to invest in justice for my son,” he said.

Police do not take case

Mongkhain is still trying to get the police to lodge a case about his family.

He submitted a complaint to the Teknaf police superintendent on January 26 but a case was not filed.

On March 11, he tried to lodge a human trafficking case but still got no response from the police.

On Tuesday, when he went to the Teknaf police station, he was told no case would be lodged without the permission of the Teknaf police station officer-in-charge (OC).

OC M Ataur Rahman told him to return on Wednesday, Mongkhain said.

The next day when he went to the station, the OC asked him to come in the evening.

“When I reached the police station in the evening, I was told the OC was in Cox’s Bazar. So I went to  Inspector (Investigation) Kabir Hossain. He did not take the case,” Mongkhain said.

Additional SP Tofail Ahammad called the OC in front of the Dhaka Tribune  reporter asking him to lodge the case. But as of 10:30pm yesterday, Mongkhain claimed the police had still not taken the case.

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