Another 32 migrants, who have returned to the country recently, were thrown into jail yesterday after completion of their quarantine period.
This batch of the migrants landed in Dhaka on September 13. According to their families, the returnees are victims of international traffickers, who engage in cross-border human smuggling.
There are two women in this group of returnees.
They were arrested under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, said Officer-in-charge of Turag Police Station Nurul Mottakin. Magistrate Debdash Chandra Adhikari accepted the police's application and sent them to prison.
"They were arrested because they were incarcerated in Syria, and as a result, they have committed the crime of ruining the image of our country," said Mottakin.
However, when asked why they were detained in Syria, OC Mottakin could not say the reason. "We are investigating the matter and will know it soon."
In spite of not knowing particulars of the "crimes" committed in Syria or Lebanon, the forwarding letter composed by the Turag police states, "If these people are allowed to walk free after quarantine, there is a possibility that they will spill all over the country and engage in crimes like robbery, terrorism, murder and anarchy. Since they were in detention abroad, and ruined the image of our country, lawful action must be taken against them for public safety."
"This group consists of people deported from Syria. They were all trying to reach Italy and got detained in Syria at different times between November 2019 and March 2020. Since the Syrian airport is closed, they were brought to Lebanon for their flight back to Bangladesh. After deportation, they were in Beirut for two days," said Abdullah Al Mamun, first secretary (labour) and head of chancery at the Bangladesh embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
Thirty-year-old arrestee Mizanur Rahman's brother-in-law Emdadul Haque spoke to this correspondent about the matter. "Mizan went to Lebanon 10 years ago in 2010 as a young boy. He used to do odd jobs at different places in Lebanon and at one point, became undocumented. Since he became undocumented, he could no longer get well-paid jobs, nor come back to Bangladesh," said Emdadul.
"During the dollar crisis early this year, it became impossible to get jobs, and that is when he met an agent who promised to take him to Italy," said Emdadul.
Lebanon witnessed several months of currency shortage. When the value of the US dollar plummeted, the economy went into a crisis and jobs dried up, resulting in violent protests by citizens in June.
"Mizanur left Lebanon a month or two before the pandemic started in Bangladesh. They were travelling via road and they got caught in the hands of Syrian border guards," he said.
"He stayed in jail for eight or nine days, following which he was taken to a United Nations camp, where he stayed for the rest of the months before coming back to Bangladesh."
"My brother-in-law is finally back to Bangladesh, 10 years after he first left. Please get him released, his aging parents are waiting anxiously to see him," Emdadul pleaded.
Talking to The Daily Star, Shariful Hasan, programme head of Brac Migration, said, "All of these people are deportees. This is a violation of human rights to keep them arrested like this. They were supposedly going to Italy as aspiring migrants. We do not know whether they went legally or illegally, but undocumented migrants are victims. Individually, they are not criminals."
A total of 416 migrant worker returnees have been arrested in Bangladesh under Section 54 in five different incidents during this pandemic, stated Shariful.
The first group of returnees -- 219 migrants from Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain -- were arrested on June 5. These are comprised of workers detained for being undocumented, as well as workers convicted of petty crimes.
Another group is consisted of 81 migrant worker returnees from Vietnam, all of whom had gone legally and were victims of trafficking.
No charges have been brought against any of the arrested migrants as yet, added Shariful.
OC Mottakin said charges would be framed once investigation was over. When asked why it was taking so long to complete the investigation, he said, "Different agencies are involved here, and there are a lot of migrants' cases to investigate."