Things that make you to Think

PART VI- The traffickers of Teknaf

In the wake of the Asian boatpeople crisis, the Dhaka Tribune’s Abid Azad travels down the migration routes along Bangladesh’s jagged coast in search of answers. On the quayside alongside migrant smuggling boats he finds desperation and ambition in equal measure, and finds menacing eddies that portend far more trouble for the migrants than they bargained for. Beyond the horizon, in foreign waters, a vast network of human traffickers lies in wait. For Bangladeshis looking for a back door to a better life, a vast tide of greed and cruelty threatens to sweep away naïve hopes and whole communities with it. This is the sixth part of the Dhaka Tribune multi-part investigative report on human trafficking in Bangladesh

  • The house of human trafficker and yaba smuggler Abul Kalam. In comparison to the locality, this under-construction house is considered a luxury home – one that can only be had with illegal money
    Photo- ABID AZAD

The Dhaka Tribune investigation has found that at least three tiers of local and international brokers are involved in the human trafficking business operating different legs of the journey from beginning to end.

The Dhaka Tribune has obtained a list of human traffickers prepared by the police, which identifies 230 top brokers around the country.

Of the local traffickers on the list, 210 are based in Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf area: 133 are from Teknaf alone while 51 are from Cox’s Bazar and 26 from Shah Porir Dwip. The rest are from other districts across the country.

The list names one Dil Mohammad, now living in Myanmar, as one of the 11 international brokers on the list.

Another three – Anar Ali, Salim Ullah, and Md Suman – are in Malaysia.

The list also names a Malaysian woman, Manaking, who provides economic support to the traffickers from Thailand.

It has the names of 26 more persons who are identified as involved in illegal money transactions that facilitate the trafficking.

However, local inhabitants suggest that the list is incomplete as it does not include several persons who are beneficiaries as well as investors in human trafficking.

The listed brokers

When this reporter visited the houses of a few of these listed brokers most of them were not present.

Listed human trafficker Yunus from Koyainchhari para of Sabrang union was not home when this reporter dropped by.

His brother Idris said that he did not know where his brother was. When asked what Yunus does for a living, Idris said: “I live in Chittagong. So, I do not know what he is doing.”

Later, this reporter visited the house of another listed trafficker named Amanullah nearby. He was also not at home and his parents also did not know anything.

A third listed trafficker, Javed Hossain’s home near the sea is luxurious although incomplete.

Javed was not at home during the visit, but his brother Imam Hossain said: “My brother is innocent. He has never been a human trafficker. Abul Kalam of Katabunia blames him due to enmity.”

All of the family members of the listed traffickers visited by the Dhaka Tribune denied the allegations against them and claimed innocence.

But they could not give any convincing answer as to how they had built such luxurious homes.

Two brokers’ fight to prove innocence

As Imam Hossain, brother of listed trafficker Javed, said Abul Kalam accused his brother of trafficking due to previous enmity, this reporter also went to Kalam’s house at Katabunia.

But none of Kalam, his father Adul Rahman and elder brothers Kamal and Jamal, who are all listed traffickers, were in the house, an incomplete two-storey building.

The house is situated on a large piece of land with an open field in the front and a betel nut grove in the back just 400-500 yards from a canal that connects to the sea.

There is one small enclosed outhouse made with bamboo and two open bamboo structures on the compound.

A number people claimed that the outhouses on the compound are used to keep people brought to be sent to Malaysia.

Locals claimed that Kalam used to keep at least 10 guards around the huge place and they were paid Tk500 each every day.

The canal, it was learned, is used as the starting point for taking people to the second tier brokers on anchored ships.

This reporter met there with Jamal’s wife and another woman who did not identify herself. They gave this reporter Kalam’s contact number.

During the conversation with Jamal’s wife, Kalam called this reporter and said: “My family members and I are not involved in human trafficking. We are innocent. Advocate [Mohammad] Alam has brought such allegations due to a long time enmity since 2005.

“He [Alam] has filed several police cases against us since then. And now he has enlisted our names in the traffickers’ list as he has good connections with the local representatives and law enforcement.

“He even sent a BGB member to our house, who drove away my labourers and threatened them not to work on my house.”

Advocate Alam later contacted this reporter over phone and said: “Kalam’s allegations are due to previous enmity. He is one of the biggest traffickers in this area.”

A deadly matter

While investigating in Teknaf for a month, this reporter learned that there is a possibility for dead bodies of Malaysia-bound people to be found in Sabrang area as brokers here also torture trafficking victims.

On May 4, the Thai authorities discovered at least 32 mass graves of people believed to have been trafficked.

On May 25, Malaysia also found 139 graves, and signs of torture, in more than two dozen squalid human trafficking camps suspected to have been used by gangs smuggling migrants across the border with Thailand.

Human rights activist Nur Khan thinks after Thailand and Malaysia, it will not be surprising if such graves are found in Teknaf too.

“Since Bangladesh is the starting point for the deadly voyage to Malaysia, there should not be such mass graves in our country. But there are still possibilities since we have learned about kidnapping and torture in both Teknaf and Moheshkhali,” Nur told the Dhaka Tribune.

Several locals allege that there have been instances of killings in at least one of the listed broker’s compounds and it is also believed that there are dead bodies buried on the same grounds.

Advocate Alam claimed: “These people are big traffickers … They even once tried to kill me with gunshots in broad daylight.”

Human Trafficking In Our Times-V: How modern slavers prey on Bangladeshi 

Human Trafficking In Our Times-IV: Bangladesh’s crime coast

Human Trafficking In Our Times-III: Sold into slavery for a few thousand taka

Human Trafficking In Our Times-II: Why risk your life on the open seas?

Human Trafficking In Our Times-I: The deadly route to Malaysia

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