Amir Hossain made two desperate attempts to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. He first tried once last year and again on May 9 this year.
On his first attempt, the Libyan coastguard intercepted the boat he was on, while the second time it was the Tunisian coastguard who rescued Amir after the engine of the boat he had boarded malfunctioned.
After the engine stopped, Amir, along with other migrants, remained stuck at sea for nearly three days.
Starving, with nothing to eat, the group prayed that the winds would lead them to the Italian shore.
The Tunisian coastguard, however, spotted and rescued them before they drifted too far out to sea.
“It’s our bad luck. We failed to reach Europe, but we are lucky to have survived such a dangerous situation and return home. I am grateful to Allah,” Amir told The Daily Star over phone after reaching his home in Kishoreganj’s Bhairab yesterday afternoon.
Fifteen Bangladeshis, including Amir, rescued by the coastguard on May 12, were brought back home by the Bangladesh government, in assistance with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), on Tuesday morning.
The group, who had arrived in Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport around 5:30am Tuesday, was released after 2:00am yesterday from immigration, where they were kept for about 20 hours.
This group of survivors is different from the 14 Bangladeshis rescued by Tunisian fishermen and coastguard, and sheltered by the local Red Crescent.
Their paths, however, may have been the same.
According to ASM Ashraful Islam, labour counsellor of the Bangladesh embassy in Libya, a ship with some 150 migrants had left the Libyan port city of Zuwara on May 9.
In mid-sea, some of the migrants were transferred to two other boats.
One of the boats had some 80 migrants, including around 70 Bangladeshis, and it capsized due to a combination of the rough sea and being overloaded.
Afterwards, four bodies of Bangladeshis were recovered and kept at a Tunisian hospital. Fourteen others were rescued, three of whom would be arriving in Dhaka on Thursday.
Eleven others are not willing to return, but will be motivated to do so, Ashraful said.
The labour counsellor said they had information that the other boat with some 70 migrants, including some 40 Bangladeshis, had reached Italy.
After one of the boats capsized, he flew to Tunisia to help arrange repatriation of the survivors.
The total number of migrants on the boat from which Amir was rescued was not yet known, Ashraful told The Daily Star from Libya.
Sharing his experience of how he went to Libya, Amir said he began to plan after a broker, Zafar, allured him to go to Italy.
First, Amir went to Dubai in May last year with a visit visa. He stayed there for ten days. Brokers there then arranged a “paper visa” of Libya and sent him there.
After more than a month in Libya, Amir was put on board a boat heading for Europe. That journey came to a premature end as the boat was intercepted by the Libyan coastguard.
Amir, along with the other migrants, were then jailed.
“My family had to pay Tk 2.25 lakh to get me out of jail,” said Amir, 35, father of a daughter.
After his release, he went to Tripoli and worked at a pharmacy for some six months. In between, he continued to dream of reaching Italy.
Finally, on May 9, he boarded yet another boat heading for Europe. Fate, however, had other plans for the illegal voyage.
Amir once again failed to reach his destination after the boat’s engine failed.
He said he had spent a total of Tk 8.5 lakh that he made from selling the land he owned.
Mohammad Zafar of Bhairab was the broker to whom he and his family handed over all the money. Now, however, he regrets what he has done.
“I have failed in two ways – I lost money and failed to reach Italy. I will try to get back the money from Zafar or file a case,” Amir said.
Another returnee, Rasel Ahmed of Sylhet sadar, said his brother Rubel had left for Italy on May 26 last year after paying Tk nine lakh to travel agent Parvez Ahmed and his father Rofiqul Islam of Bishwanath upazila.
“We gave them Taka 5.5 lakhs before he left and then he was in Libya for several months. Around two months ago, we gave them another 4 lakh so that he can reach Italy. The contract was to use large steel boats and reach Italy directly,” said Rubel.
Meanwhile, scores of reporters and photojournalists waited for returnees the whole day on Tuesday at the arrival of the Dhaka airport, but found none from Tunisia.
Earlier, an immigration police said they were quizzing the returnees and were verifying their names and identities through local police stations.