Voyage to Europe: 64 stranded Bangladeshis agree to return home

This handout picture released and taken yesterday by the Turkish coastguard shows illegal migrants being rescued after their boat sank in the Aegean sea, off the coast of southwestern Turkey. Turkish coastguard said 12 people died and 31 others had been rescued. It was not immediately known which country or countries the migrants were from. Photo: AFP

The 64 Bangladeshi migrants who have been stranded in the Mediterranean Sea off Tunisian coast of Zarzis for 17 days have finally agreed to return home.

The development comes after Bangladesh Ambassador to Libya Sheikh Sekander Ali had gone to the boat that was 10km off the coast and convinced them to come home. 

Chiranjib Sarker, director general of the foreign ministry’s consular wing, yesterday told The Daily Star over phone that it took hours of discussion with the migrants to convince them. 

“The Bangladeshi migrants will be brought to the Tunisian land first, and will be flown to Bangladesh later,” he said. 

The International Organisation for Migration will provide the Bangladeshis with air tickets, Chiranjib added.

On Thursday, Sekander flew to Tunisia from Libya and held a meeting with Tunisian officials the next day. The officials refused to allow the migrants’ boat to come ashore, arguing that their migrant centres were overcrowded. But they allowed the Bangladesh envoy to go to the boat where the discussion took place. 

The migrants were rescued by an Egyptian boat on Tunisian waters on May 31. Neither Tunisia nor any European country agreed to accept them. The Tunisian Red Crescent has been providing them with food and medicine since then.

Earlier, the migrants were not willing to return to Tunisia. Instead, they wanted to go to Europe -- a proposition that’s not possible given Europe’s strong stance against illegal migration -- which has seen a sharp rise since Libya plunged into civil war after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Bangladesh Embassy in Libya, meanwhile, asked the Bangladeshis there and their relatives not to take the risky sea journey to Europe. 

Meanwhile, a Supreme Court lawyer filed a writ petition with the High Court on Sunday, seeking its directive on the government to take appropriate action against the travel agencies and human traffickers responsible for the death of 37 Bangladeshis in the Mediterranean Sea on May 9. 

The victims, most of whom from Sylhet and Noakhali, reportedly died after their boat capsized in the sea on the way to Italy from Libya.

Emdadul Haque submitted the writ petition, seeking an HC order on the travel agencies, who illegally sent the Bangladeshis through the sea to Italy, to compensate Tk 1 crore to each of the victims’ families.

In the petition, he urged the court to direct the government to form a high-powered committee to probe the incidents of human trafficking and identify the travel agencies and human traffickers responsible for the incidents.

The lawyer also requested the HC to ask the government to incorporate a provision of death sentence for the persons responsible for human trafficking in the Manab Pachar Protirodh O Daman Ain (Human Trafficking Prevention Act and Suppression Act) 2012. 

Citing the petition, he told this newspaper that travel agencies and gangs of frauds have been violating the people’s fundamental and human rights protected by the constitution. 

The authorities concerned of the government have failed to protect the fundamental and human rights of such victims, the lawyer said, adding that the HC might hold a hearing on the petition today.