‘We don’t know whether he’s alive’
At least 13 Bangladeshi migrants have been missing since a boat capsized with them off the coast of Tunisia almost a month ago.
Tunisian Coast Guard, Red Crescent and migration authorities have yet to find them, according officials at Bangladesh Embassy in Libya.
The chances that they are alive are slight, but their bodies have not been found yet, they added.
Meanwhile, desperate family members of the missing migrants have been contacting the embassy and other Bangladeshis who survived the accident in the hope of hearing about their loved ones.
In the early hours of May 18, a boat sank in the Mediterranean with 81 Bangladeshi migrants during a storm.
Sixty-eight of them were rescued alive, according to the embassy.
Two days after the accident, a delegation led by Gazi Md Asaduzzaman Kabir, the Charge d'Affaires of Bangladesh Embassy in Libya, visited Tunisia and learnt that 13 Bangladeshis were missing.
The embassy officials confirmed that those remaining missing include Sentu Mandal, Akhteruzzaman Ilias, Saiful Islam Hawlader, Rajan Chowkidar and Mohammad Nazim of Madaripur, and Mohammad Alam of Tangail.
The officials got two more names -- Mintu Hawlader of Madaripur and Al-Amin of Barishal -- but their identities could not be confirmed.
They were hoping to enter Italy.
The Daily Star talked to several survivors, who were taken to a hotel in Tunisia. They informed that most of the migrants went to Libya via Dubai a few days before the Ramadan.
The went to Dubai through normal flights. Then, they went to Benghazi in Libya on a chartered flight.
The boat, crammed with passengers, left the Libyan port of Zuwara, located around 200 km off the capital Tripoli, on the night of May 16. The boat sank around 20 hours later.
Many of those onboard swam to a floating platform off the southern coast of Tunisia, and some were rescued by the Tunisian Navy and Coast Guard officials.
"The boat suddenly capsized after being hit by the storm... I couldn't see many of the passengers after we were rescued," said Wali Ullah Khan, who is from Muladi, Barishal.
"Nobody had a life jacket. I saw many people drowning," said Al-Amin of Madaripur.
Most of those who remain are aged between 18 and 44.
Some 14 people of Nayachar village of Madaripur Sadar were rescued.
Contacted, 44-year-old Sentu's wife Sathi Akhter said, "We don't even know whether he is alive."
Sentu's nephew Rony said, "We are sure that my uncle was on the boat… The embassy officials told us that they would inform us if my uncle is found."
Akhteruzzaman's wife Laila Akhter said, "My husband called me over the phone on the night of May 16. He told me that he was starting the boat journey. He has not been traced after the accident. One of his travel mates told me that my husband tried to survive by swimming."
Contacted, Gazi Md Asaduzzaman Kabir said, "We have kept communications with the departments concerned in Tunisia, Libya and other neighbouring countries to get the information."
Just a day before the accident, some 52 Bangladeshi aspiring migrants were rescued from the Mediterranean, while they were trying to go across the sea. Besides, 179 more Bangladeshis were rescued on May 27 and 28.
Of them, 221 Bangladeshis were kept in detention in five cities in Tunisia under the supervision of International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Red Crescent.
Some 308 illegal attempts to enter Italy by using Tunisian coast were resisted this year. A total of 4,376 people was rescued. Of them, 2,531 were Bangladeshis, according to the Office of Tunisian National Guard Directorate General.
The writer is a freelance journalist.