Things that make you to Think

PART II- Why risk your life on the open seas?

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.

Abdul Khaleque, an inhabitant of Enayetpur upazila of Sirajganj is now back in Bangladesh after failing to go to Malaysia, and is saddled with Tk4 lakh debt into the bargain.

Once a weaver who could earn only Tk5,000 a month, he now has to pay interest of Tk1,000 a week against his debt.

Khaleque said: “I took the loan from the money-lenders as I thought I could easily refund the money after earning a handsome amount in Malaysia. But as I failed to go to Malaysia now I wonder how can I refund the money or how I can bear the interest weekly.”

Not only Khaleque, most of the victims managed their payment by taking loan against high interest while some needed to sell their land, domestic animals, or other assets to fund the voyage.


“I am an illiterate person. Being illiterate what can I do here in my country? Working scope for the illiterate is zero. Once I went to a technical training centre in Tangail, which is a government organisation, but the instructor there told me that I have to complete at least class eight to take training there,” Khaleque replied when asked why he chose to go to abroad illegally instead of trying to do something in the country.

Sariful from the same upazila, who recently came back from Indonesia after attempting to go to Malaysia, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Weaving as a profession is popular here in Sirajganj. But the weavers get very low wage. Monthly we can earn only Tk5,000-6,000 which is very low. So young people like me choose to go abroad in illegal way to Malaysia to earn more.”

These people do not dare to do any business in the country by getting loan or selling their land. They believe if they can go to Malaysia and start working there they can recover their debt within a few years. But it will be impossible to recover the debt doing the same work or even business here in Bangladesh with the same amount of money.

Poverty, non-stop political crisis, and extortion by political muscle-men are their main enemies to do anything in the country, they added.

A human rights activist Nur Khan said: “We might be becoming a middle-income country, but still the required employment opportunities are not there.

“People are becoming desperate because of political crisis in the country. At the same time, it is harder to go abroad legally. Day by day, employment opportunities are decreasing overseas for Bangladeshi people while at the same time people do not find sufficient opportunities in the country,” he added.

In his assessment, this is what forces people to try their luck on the illegal voyage to Malaysia.

Supply and demand

According to a report by the UN High Commission for Refugees, from June 2013 to June 2014 more than 53,000 people have fled by sea from the Bangladesh-Myanmar border region, an increase of 60% from the previous year.

According to the Bureau of Manpower, Export, and Training (BMET), roughly 200,000 migrants have gone abroad legally in 2015 so far. The number was 425,000 in 2014.

After five years of closed doors, the Bangladesh government signed a deal with the Malaysian government on October 22, 2012 to send Bangladeshi migrants under G2G process. The registration database shows that over 1.4 million had registered their names as aspirants.

Since then, 3,853 aspirants went to Malaysia in 2013, 5,134 in 2014 and 1,047 in the current year under G2G process.

The database maintained by BMET also shows so far 1.45 million aspirants have already registered to go to another preferred destination, Saudi Arabia, which market has resumed after seven years.

But so far in the last five months only 9,726 aspirants have been able to go to KSA through government initiative.

Following the money

In 2013, remittances were $13.8 billion, which rose to $15bn in 2014. But up to May this year, remittances were $5bn compared to over $6bn at the same time last year.

BMET Director General Begum Shamsun Nahar told the Dhaka Tribune over phone: “I do not think the supply of our manpower is low. According to the countries’ demand, we meet their demand.”

However, a joint secretary from the expatriates welfare ministry, requesting anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Maximum aspirants I meet working here as an expatriates ministry official, come from lower income family background who depend on agriculture as their profession. Most of them feel they need to earn more money to live and decided to go abroad as their present profession does not provide required income. Then they start trying to go abroad at any cost. This is when they fall victim of brokers or traffickers.

“Due to their lower education level they think the illegal way is a perfectly fine way to become a migrant,” he added.

When asked what are the government’s initiatives to keep people from choosing the hazardous and illegal sea route to go Malaysia, the expatriates welfare minister responded: “You journalists act like you know better than a minister.”

He then refused to talk further with this correspondent.

This report was also contributed by another Dhaka Tribune journalist Adil Sakhawat from Dhaka.

Click here to find the news link


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