16 Bangladeshis kidnapped?
At least 16 Bangladeshi migrant workers in Iraq were allegedly abducted from a camp and taken to a confinement site by some locals yesterday.
They are among the 180 Bangladeshi workers who have been languishing at a camp in Najaf city without any job in the restive country for the last seven months.
The Bangladesh mission in the violence-ridden Middle East country denied the allegation and said the 16 might have been taken away by their employers so that they could be sent home.
The workers at the camp claimed that some locals led by Haider, manager of their employer Abu Torab Housing Project, forcibly took away the workers from their camp around 9:00am local time.
“The Iraqis came in a microbus in the morning and took 17 of our fellow workers, including engineer Siddique, saying they would be sent back to Bangladesh,” Abdul Latif, one of the stranded workers, told The Daily Star over the phone in the afternoon yesterday. Later, they released Mamun of Brahmanbaria because he had been working for the recruiting agency in Bangladesh, he alleged, adding that one of the "abductees" informed them over the phone that they were kept at a confinement site in Najaf, the same city where the others were.
Career Overseas Consultants Ltd sent these workers to Iraq in May with promises of jobs at Abu Torab Housing Project run by a Turkish employer.
The agency was angry with Siddique, who hails from Jessore, because he was the first one to reveal their ordeals to the media and the Bangladesh government, Latif claimed.
He also feared that the 16 might be trafficked to another country.
Three other workers -- Nayan of Jessore, Tamim of Gazipur and Khokon of Munshiganj -- also phoned this correspondent and narrated the story of "abduction" that corroborates Latif's claims.
Apart from Siddique, engineer Farid and labourers Mamun and Md Farid were among the 16. The rest were yet to be identified.
At home, Siddique's brother Jabed Ahmed said Siddique called him yesterday afternoon and informed him of their confinement.
“I don't know what has happened to my brother. I didn't inform his wife and my mother of this yet,” he added.
Contacted, Bangladesh Ambassador to Iraq Rezanur Rahman Khan outright binned the allegations of abduction of the 16 migrant workers.
“As they [180 migrants] don't want to stay here anymore, we with the help of the sender agency are trying to send them back home in phases,” he said, adding that the 16 might have been separated as part of this process.
Meanwhile, Minarul Islam, another Bangladeshi stranded in Najaf, last night phoned this paper and said an official from the Bangladesh embassy and AM Badrul Amin, managing director of the recruiting agency, went to their camp and threatened them.
“They asked us to follow their direction if we wanted to go back home. Otherwise, they said, we would have to suffer a lot,” he said.
The Bangladeshis have been passing their days in misery in a desert area of the southern province of Najaf due to lack of food, water and other amenities, including power supply, ever since they arrived in Iraq in May, alleged their families back at home.
The agency took Tk 4 lakh from each of the jobseekers. But their employer failed to arrange jobs for these Bangladeshis as Iraq witnessed severe clashes among different groups, including the infamous Islamic State militants, since that month.
Their Turkish employer fled to save himself, leaving the Bangladeshis in utter miseries.
The stranded workers repeatedly requested both their employer and the Bangladeshi agency to either provide them with jobs or send them home, but all their pleas fell on deaf ears, their families said.
When this was revealed in some Bangladeshi media last August, the Bangladesh Embassy in Iraq and the sender agency pledged to resolve this, but did nothing except for providing some food that also allegedly was inadequate.
Some of the family members of the victims told this correspondent that they have been advised by the government and the recruiting agency not to speak to the media.