Bangladeshis are among the top three nationalities to cross the Mediterranean Sea or land borders to reach European countries without valid documents in 2021, said data released by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The UN refugee agency in its latest data published on Monday showed that the number of undocumented migrants reaching Europe continued to rise in the first four weeks of January 2022, with 3,718 people including ‘refugees’ and ‘migrants’ arriving by sea to Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta.
As of December 31, 2021, the analysis of UNCHR’s one-year data showed that 7,577 or 10.9 per cent of 1, 22,485 undocumented migrants were Bangladeshis. Tunisia topped the list with 15,059 people reaching European countries and Egypt was in the second position with 7,965 people.
The issue came to the fore again after Agence France-Presse reported from Italy’s Rome on Tuesday that seven migrants, all reportedly Bangladesh nationals, have died in cold weather while attempting to cross the perilous sea from Libya in a boat carrying 280 people.
The report stated hundreds of people have made the often-deadly journey this year, despite winter weather that once deterred migrants from attempting the crossing, and numbers are expected to rise further.
A senior official at the Special Branch of police told New Age a large number of Bangladeshis travelled to Dubai during Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 and many of them tried to travel to Europe because of the scarcity of jobs in the Middle Eastern country.
The official also blamed unscrupulous travel agents for the growing number of Bangladeshis taking Europe-bound perilous journey, adding that many youths were also using India and Nepal to move beyond.
Asked, the home minister, Asaduzzaman Khan, told New Age that they were facing an embarrassing situation despite continued actions against middlemen, who allured Bangladeshis to make the risky journey.
He said that many youths travelled to Dubai with valid documents and then moved to Libya before undertaking their Europe-bound journey.
‘We made our immigration further strict,’ he added.
The UN agency said 1,971 others died or went ‘missing’ in the same period. The number of Bangladeshi dead or missing was not mentioned.
The UNHCR in July stated 3,332 or 14.5 per cent of the 16,820 cases of undocumented migrants analysed in the first six months of the year were Bangladeshis.
Bangladeshi migrant rights workers said that they were worried about the figure and were looking for an answer as to what led to the high number of human-trafficking cases reported from Bangladesh along with war-ravaged or politically unstable countries.
As the number was increasing, the Special Branch asked immigration police posted at international airports to examine strictly the travel background of passengers intending to visit Dubai on tourist visas.
In an office order issued on September 22, 2021, the immigration police at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport asked police officials not to perform the immigration formalities for any Bangladeshi who intended to travel to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates pretending as a tourist but mainly wanted to seek a job in the Middle Eastern country.
The immigration police, however, said that people who had work visas or residence permits would not face the restriction while ‘actual travellers’, including businesspeople, government officials, lawmakers, ministers, prominent politicians and eminent professionals would also be spared.
The order also said that Bangladeshis carrying cards issued by the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training would also be spared from the restriction.
The Bangladesh officials said that the European Union also warned the country that the bloc would be harsh on Bangladeshis in the coming days.
The migration programme at non-government organisation BRAC in July 2021 revealed that a large number of Bangladeshis, like people of many other countries, travelled to Dubai on tourist visas and tried to enter European countries.
It also revealed that in the preceding two years, about two lakh people travelled to Dubai on tourist visas from Bangladesh.
Many of them were not employed finally in the Middle Eastern country or its nearby countries and as a result, they tried to enter EU countries crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
Between January 1 and 24,2022, the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport officials stated that 83,109 Bangladesh migrant workers went abroad while 3,928 others were sent back from various countries with ‘outpass’.
In the Trafficking in Persons report, the United States on July 1, 2021, stated that Bangladesh did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but was making significant efforts to do so.