World Day Against Trafficking in Persons: Trapped in Kurdistan
The horrifying tales of Bangladeshi women being trafficked, more often than not, take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Recently, another Middle-Eastern country -- Iraq, especially its Kurdistan region -- came to the spotlight as a target for traffickers, after a victim's mother filed a case with Paltan Police Station on July 5.
Rahima Akhter Rakhi, 35, who was trafficked to the city of Sulaymaniyah in the region, is currently counting days till she can come back home.
Rezaul Karim, labour counsellor at the Bangladesh embassy in Iraq said, "There are no legal Bangladeshi women migrant workers in Iraq… Since we do not have any recruitment process from Bangladesh to Iraq, the employers or the owners of the houses enter into contracts with agents, I have heard."
With no formal labour migration system in place between Iraq and Bangladesh, the hiring happens through a transnational syndicate, spanning three countries – Iraq, Bangladesh and United Arab Emirates.
Rakhi's Iraqi employer allegedly paid an agent $6,000 to procure a worker.
The agent, Rasel, then contacted a manpower recruiting agency in Bangladesh to find workers.
Meanwhile, Rakhi had paid Tk 2.5 lakhs (roughly $2,950) to a local agent named Ruhul Amin Munnu to get her a job as a nanny for a minister's children. She was promised a decent job with clearly defined 8-hour time slots.
But when she arrived in Sulaymaniyah, she realised that she was not a nanny, but rather a servant and the sole person in charge of cooking and cleaning a three-storey house, whose hours begin early morning and end at 2:00am.
Rakhi's husband, requesting anonymity, said, "When my wife wanted to leave the job, the owner of the house told her that he paid $6,000 for her and that she needs to spend two years. Otherwise, she will have to pay $6,000 back to him and the agent who brought her to Iraq, will need to find a replacement from Bangladesh, and only then can she leave."
"But we have already spent all our money on the agent to send her to Iraq… How can we arrange USD 6000 to buy her freedom, now?"
By taking money from both Rakhi and Rakhi's employer, the transnational syndicate arranged an elaborate irregular migration route.
First, the local agent Munnu, contacted Al Nahin Manpower Services Ltd. (RL1258) owned by Mostafizur Rahman Mostofa in the capital's Purana Paltan.
According to the case filed by Rakhi's mother, after Rakhi paid the agents (on November 8, 2020), they handed her a two-month tourist visa to Iraq.
"My daughter protested and said she is supposed to get a two-year work visa, but the agent reassured her [it would be taken care of later]," said the first information report by her mother, Shurjo Begum.
The money was already paid and there was no turning back.
At no point did Rakhi have to face the embassy of Iraq in Dhaka, her family claimed.
Rakhi was then flown to Dubai on a tourist visa on April 23, 2021.
"She was sent there with another woman. There, they met Rasel, who took them to a bachelor's flat. After spending three days there, they were taken to Iraq," said Rakhi's husband.
"They do not let her go to the washroom without finishing her chores. Her feet are swollen… The agent even kicked her in the stomach where there is an old C-section wound. The employers hit her on the ankle making it bleed and yesterday, they slashed her hand with a knife."
He forwarded photos of the wounds sent by his wife as proof.
Law enforcers said traffickers use Dubai as transit -- as a cover -- to transport migrant workers to other countries.
The Special Branch of police recently revealed to the media that around 2 lakh men and woman have left the country for Dubai with tourist visas from January last year to June 30 this year. However, although most of their visas have already expired, only 21 thousand came back.
Mostofa, the recruiting agent, was arrested by Rab-3 on July 5, but just his arrest comes as small consolation to the family who want Rakhi back home safe.
When Rezaul Karim was asked why Rakhi is not being brought back to Bangladesh, he said it is because she had not gone through the Bangladesh embassy.
"We are in constant communication and are trying to persuade the employers to release her."