Foreign nationals often have to remain in jail way beyond their prison terms due to the cumbersome process of securing release.
In absence of proper cooperation from relevant embassies and missions, the prison authorities face obstacles in releasing them.
Till the first week of August, as many as 89 foreign inmates have been waiting for their release after serving jail terms, home ministry and jail sources said. There are 62 Indian nationals followed by 20 Myanmarese, three each of Pakistani and Iranian origin and two Nepalese.
The jail authorities have informed the matter to the concerned embassies but have to wait until receiving confirmation about these nationals.
Compounding the problem, if anyone dies while serving their sentences, the jail authorities have to keep their bodies in mortuaries for months until confirmation comes from their country of origin.
Currently, the jail database shows that an Indian national's body is at Dhaka Medical College (DMC) morgue and one Myanmar national's body at Cox's Bazar hospital morgue while the body of another Indian national is being kept at Sylhet hospital morgue.
Of these three individuals, Suraj Singh died on January 3, 2017, Sup Kumar died on July 19, 2017 and Myanmar national Abu Siddique died on February 2, 2017.
Seeking anonymity, a high official of the prison headquarters told The Daily Star that once a foreign national is charged with a criminal offence, then s/he becomes eligible for deportation. In such cases, prison authorities have to verify the nationality and local addresses of the foreigners from their embassies, the official explained.
“Unless the embassies verify the information and give clearance, the authorities will not be able to release them, and the foreign nationals will have to stay in jail for years even after serving their term,” the official said.
Currently, 68 jails in the country hold as many as 568 foreign inmates. Of them, 421 are prisoners and 58 are convicted. Of them, 324 prisoners are Myanmar nationals while 47 others are Indian nationals.
Besides, there are 32 Pakistani nationals, seven Thais, six Malaysians, three each from Tanzania, Peru and Cameroon, and one each from China, Spain, Germany, Congo, Nepal, Nigeria, Algeria and the United Kingdom.
Inspector General (IG) of Prisons, Brig Gen Syed Iftekhar Uddin, however, told The Daily Star that things have improved now and the foreign missions have begun responding to the queries they are sending to them and giving feedback.
It is still taking some time to get verification as the prison authorities need to send the queries to embassies through home and foreign ministries. After receiving the queries, the embassies send a letter to their government and then the concerned country verifies the identity of the foreigners using their local police.
At times, it can take up to a year to get the information back from the relevant ministry as it disperses through all the channels, said the IG.
“In this process, we are now facing most difficulties with Myanmar as the country does not accept that any of their nationals are in our jails although Myanmarese nationals account for the highest number of foreign prisoners in our jails,” he said.
For this reason, the court, on August 7, gave a decision about one Myanmar national among the 20 whose prison term was already over and ordered him to be released from prison and kept in a refugee camp, said the prison chief.
Asked about the nature of crimes committed by foreign nationals, IG prisons said they are getting most prisoners from India and Myanmar, having usually arrested them for illegal entry into Bangladesh. Some of the offenders are accused of money laundering and illegal VOIP cases, he said.
The IG further said that they cannot bury the dead bodies without getting permission.
For example, one of the Indian nationals, Tarak Mukharjee, died on November 1, 2016. His body was kept at DMC morgue for nearly nine months. Jail authority completed the burial process of Tarak after getting Indian High Commission's confirmation after a long process.