Modern-day slave trade unearthed
A modern-day slave trade has taken a firm root in Bangladesh as confirmed by the recent discovery and subsequent rescue of 171 people, mostly Bangladeshis, who were confined in a Southern Thailand rubber plantation deep in the jungle.
Beaten, abused and left with no food, these wretched men tell a horrific tale of how they were abducted in the style of the 17th century slave trade in Africa and forced to work in the plantation in the most hazardous condition.
The Thai authorities discovered 81 trafficking victims, who were surrounded in a forest camp near the road, on October 13 and another 53 victims on October 11.
Of these 134 people, 118 are Bangladeshis and the rest 16 are Rohingyas from Myanmar, said Mohammad Ehteshamul Haque, counsellor of the Bangladesh mission in Thailand, quoting the victims.
The BBC, however, reports that all these 134 are Bangladeshis.
Earlier, a group of 37 people were found in the jungle last month. It could not be known how many of them are Bangladeshis.
The Bangladesh Embassy officials in Thailand said this year alone some 700 Bangladeshi victims of human trafficking were rescued in that country.
“Of them, 300 have already been repatriated. The rest are in the process of repatriation,” Ehteshamul told The Daily Star by phone yesterday.
He, however, does not believe the Bangladeshi jobseekers were kidnapped for taking them to Malaysia. According to him, they willingly travelled by boats to go to Malaysia.
“Human traffickers lure these people with promise of jobs in Malaysia. But in case they [jobseekers] fail to make it to Malaysia, they [the traffickers] offload them in the coastal border of Thailand,” he said.
His statements clarify how slave traders have found a happy hunting ground in Bangladesh as people desperately looking for a livelihood are easily lured with the enticement of jobs abroad, and then they are kidnapped, put on wooden boats to be sailed off to Thailand.
Thailand is increasingly becoming infamous for human trafficking. In 2009, the Thai Navy was found to be towing boats packed with Rohingyas out to the sea, and leaving them to drift. Hundreds are believed to have died.
More recently, the Thai police and military personnel have been accused of selling Rohingyas who washed up on Thailand's shores to human traffickers.
These abuses are in part what caused Thailand to be downgraded to the lowest rank in the annual US report on human trafficking.
The BBC reports that 81 of the kidnapped men are now being sheltered in a local government hall in the town of Takua Pa. They sit there listlessly, some nursing ugly wounds inflicted by their captors.
At times, tears slide down their faces as they recall their ordeal, and think of homes and families in Bangladesh. They all tell very similar stories.
Eighteen-year-old Abdur Rahim still hobbles from a savage blow to his knee inflicted by one of his guards after he asked for more food, an investigative report of the BBC said.
Originally from Bogra, in northern Bangladesh, he said he was trying to find work in Dhaka when an elderly man offered him a job paying around $6 (Tk 450) a day.
He travelled with this man to Cox's Bazaar, he said, and was taken to a small house up in the hills. There he was tied up, drugged, and then he woke up on board a boat. He spent seven or eight days at sea, where he was repeatedly beaten.
After that, the group was unloaded on the Thai coast, and taken to a camp hidden in a mangrove forest. “They gave us no food,” he said, "We survived by eating leaves."
Absar Mia is 27, from Teknaf, close to the border with Myanmar. He is married with three young children.
"My heart is burning for home.
"All I think about is how I can get home, how I can see my mother again, how I can see my little boys and girl again. That's why I'm crying."
He described being offered a job by a man, and was waiting for him on a hill near Teknaf. Suddenly he was grabbed, his hands tied, his mouth gagged. He said he struggled as he was taken out to a boat, and was beaten.
Ayub was working as an agricultural labourer in Chittagong, southeast Bangladesh, but he said the work ran out. A man suggested he go to Cox's Bazaar. There he suddenly found himself being grabbed, tied up and forced onto a boat which he said was already crowded with people.
He repeatedly asked where they were taking him, but said the guards threatened to kill him if he did not shut up. He, too, has three children.
A LONG-DRAWN STORY
The first group of 37 who were forcibly kept in the jungle was found last month. Then, on 11 October, another group of 53 was tracked down, the BBC says.
The last group, of 81, was surrounded in a forest camp near the road on 13 October. They had been driven by their guards from one camp to another in an attempt to evade the authorities.
Two of the guards have now been detained. One of them was identified by the Bangladeshis as the most brutal of their captors, a man they called Keke.
Whether this man and his bosses are brought to justice, depends on the government in Bangkok.
Senior figures in the Thai police and the social welfare ministry are resisting efforts to have all the Bangladeshi men classified as victims of trafficking.
The second group of 53 has already been given that status, which gives them proper support and shelter, and would allow them to return to Bangladesh quickly.
However, the police are talking about reversing that decision. Instead, they want them to be jailed as illegal immigrants.
It is difficult to know why they want this outcome for people who have all the appearance of victims.
Perhaps it is to avoid having to admit that trafficking continues in Thailand. Perhaps it is because they are reluctant to go after the trafficking kingpins.
The result, though, could be disastrous for the Bangladeshis. People have been known to be stuck in Thai immigration prisons for many years. In the case of Rohingyas, some were actually sold back to human traffickers.