Bangladeshis have always been of the migrating sort. The tendency or willingness to strike out and try your luck in a foreign land for want of economic opportunity at home, has been part of the Bangladeshi ethos – indeed it outdates the nation-state. While the most storied and magnetic of the diaspora communities inhabit London and New York, the fact is there are now pockets of Bangladeshis to be found in almost any country that has pursued even a moderately liberal immigration policy, from Australia to Sweden and then across the Atlantic to the US and Canada.
While the vast majority are hardworking, law-abiding folk, what cannot be denied is that side-by-side there is always an undercurrent of irregulars – who can be simply be undocumented, or criminals, or their victims. And some disturbing recent trends have emerged to suggest that the scale of Bangladeshis being trafficked abroad, with Europe an increasingly favoured destination, is getting out of hand. To the point that it is quite unbecoming of the general image of the country.
Ahead of the International Day Against Human Trafficking falling on Friday, it came to light this week that Bangladeshis constitute 14.5 percent (3,332 persons), the highest among all nationalities, of the 47,425 refugees and migrants to have reached the shores of Europe through the appallingly risky Mediterranean route in 2021 (till July 26). At first it seems almost inexplicable. Then it gets alarming.
Looking at the list of top 10 source countries, Bangladesh is clearly the odd one out. Rounding out the top 5 are three African nations (Tunisia, Ivory Coast and Egypt) and war-torn Syria. Geographically, Bangladesh is the farthest from the departure point. There is no war to speak of, and even in terms of economic performance, Bangladesh's record is more robust than the other countries. That should act as a disincentive to not just migration, but particularly such risk-laden, desperate ventures. It makes no sense – till you piece together the fact that since the fall of Gaddafi, Libya has been a lawless country in large parts, and has been turned into a hub of trafficking, with a number of international trafficking rackets operating off its coast.
Indeed, for all the ones that manage to wash up on some European shore, untold numbers don’t make it. But the entire process begins at home, where they fall prey to brokers roaming villages to hunt for potential victims. Experts and officials reckon that a poor rate of prosecution and an even poorer rate of conviction in trafficking cases under a 2012 law have contributed to the thriving ‘trade’ in human trafficking and illegal migration in recent years. But has there ever been a better time to gather the political will that is needed to buttress the legal framework? We can now see how trafficking is having a direct negative impact on the country’s international standing, instead of just affecting individuals personally. Some observers are even doubting the validity of Bangladesh’s claims to economic success in recent times. We cannot let such wanton criminality sully the hard-earned image of so many.