The Bangladeshis in Libya are living in extreme uncertainty amid persisting violence in the war-torn country. Fearing for their life, many are returning home while some are embarking on risky boat journeys to Europe across the Mediterranean.
Those who are still stuck there often lose all their savings to robbers or armed groups or even civilians who take advantage of the absolute chaos that followed the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Their trouble deepened after money transfer agencies shut their services in the North African country over a year ago, rendering the migrant workers unable to send money home through legal and trusted channels.
The plights of the expatriate workers came to the fore when a boat carrying around 500 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea en route to Europe on August 24. At least 78 Bangladeshis were on the boat. Of them, 24 died and 54 were rescued.
The rescued later told Bangladesh Embassy officials that security concerns in Libya forced them to take the risky journey.
Since Gaddafi's fall, the oil-rich country has been torn apart by various region- and tribe-centric armed militias fighting each other for greater control in the absence of a central government.
Under these circumstances, Libya halted recruiting from Bangladesh in May this year and Bangladesh Embassy in Tripoli was relocated to Tunisia a month later.
According to foreign ministry officials, though nearly 37,000 migrants were repatriated from Libya since 2011, an estimated 40,000 Bangladeshis still work there. And they are not happy.
"It is very difficult to go out on the streets. Nobody knows when they will be attacked or robbed," said Jahangir Alam who has been working in Tripoli for six years.
Just a month ago, he and six of his colleagues were returning to their homes from work when an armed group robbed them of several thousand Libyan dinars and six mobile phones, Jahangir said.
"And last year, all that we had saved for our families back home were stolen from our residence," he told The Daily Star over the phone. "There are no authorities here to go with complaints."
That's not all they have to deal with.
"There's no money transfer service here. So, we have to send money to our families through hundi which costs us a lot. For one [Libyan] dinar we send, our families get Tk 35-40," Jahangir said. The current market value of 1 Libyan Dinar is equivalent to Tk 56, down from Tk 63-65 last year.
He said he was now planning to return home, most possibly after Eid-ul-Azha.
Counsellor (Labour) ASM Ashraful Islam of Bangladesh mission for Libya said they were aware of the situation and had advised the Bangladeshis there to move around in groups, and not after the sunset.
But there's a huge demand for Bangladeshi workers in Libya now, he said, as foreign companies have closed their operations there and most migrants from Egypt, Chad and Ghana have returned home since 2011. "The minimum wage is equivalent to Tk 30,000 which is quite good."
But since there were no proper money transfer channels, many are returning to Bangladesh, Ashraful added.
According to him, 50 to 60 Bangladeshis are returning home every month, up from 30 to 40 in the last two years.
On Bangladeshis taking sea journeys to Europe, the counsellor said they were aware of it.
Asked if the government was planning to repatriate the Bangladeshis from Libya, Ashraful Islam replied in the negative. "But we are providing legal and consular assistance to those wishing to return home."
A former diplomat, who has worked in Libya, said the Bangladeshi migrants feel more vulnerable because of the relocation of Bangladesh embassy to Tunisia. "A second thought should have been given before the relocation," he said, wishing anonymity.
However, Ashraful Islam said though the embassy has been moved, some low-level embassy staffs are still working in Libya and senior officials take turns in providing consular services there.