Irregular Migration of Bangladeshis: Mediterranean route dangerous yet popular
Irregular migration of Bangladeshis to Italy by sea has almost doubled in a year, shows UN data.
A total of 15,228 Bangladeshis reached Italy by sea last year, with 98 percent departing from Libya, up from 7,838 in 2021, according to the UNHCR.
Over the last two years, the overwhelming majority of the irregular Bangladeshi migrants travelling to the European country went from Libya via the Central Mediterranean Sea route, shows UN data.
Intensified online campaign by traffickers and poor rate of their conviction still remain among the key reasons for the rise in irregular migration, say experts.
They say that traffickers campaign vigorously on virtual platforms to lure migrants into taking the perilous journey, often highlighting in video clips the stories of people reaching their destinations.
Irregular migration to Italy rose despite the county reopening its door to Bangladeshi workers in 2020 after an eight-year ban over violation of recruitment conditions.
The Central Mediterranean route is the most common one used by irregular migrants to travel to Europe, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The route poses multiple risks for migrants -- from exploitation and possible death at the hands of traffickers to possible drowning from shipwreck.
According to an IOM estimate, over 20,000 people have died or disappeared while crossing the Central Mediterranean between 2014 and 2022.
In May 2019, around 60 migrants, mostly from Bangladesh, died in a boat capsize in the Mediterranean on their way to Italy from Libya, AFP reported.
In January last year, seven Bangladeshi migrants who were on a boat from Libya heading for Lampedusa in Italy died of hypothermia, according to media reports.
In 2020, traffickers killed 26 Bangladeshi migrants in Libya following an altercation.
Migration experts said although economic needs could be associated with people's irregular migration, youths from solvent families were also found taking such dangerous journeys.
They blamed presence of trafficking networks in Bangladesh for such irregular migration.
Masud Ali, executive director of Integrated Community and Industrial Development Initiative in Bangladesh (INCIDIN Bangladesh), an NGO, said most irregular Bangladeshis migrating to Europe are aged 30 on an average.
He said there was a growing trend of traffickers campaigning on virtual platforms. "This trend intensified massively in the last two years."
He said people have been made to believe it is an easy route.
Besides, many people might feel encouraged to take the risky journey due to their "social connection" with those who have already migrated to Italy through irregular routes, Masud observed.
He also said low conviction rate in trafficking cases could be linked to the rise in irregular migration.
A comprehensive global effort is required to address irregular migration since transnational crime like trafficking cannot be curbed by a single country alone, he added.
The IOM in a report in 2021 said migrants crossing the Mediterranean are often crammed into fragile boats without life jackets.
There is a high risk of shipwreck due to fragility of the boats and lack of equipment necessary for navigation, it added.
Besides, there are many reports of violence and serious abuses like detention of and exploitation against migrants, particularly by traffickers and militia groups, from the moment they set foot in Libya, according to the UN agency.
A report of infomigrants.net in 2021 said following their disembarkation in Italian shore, migrants are "identified" mostly in registration centres known as "hotspots" and interviewed by local police for further administrative procedures.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, migrants are obliged to observe a mandatory quarantine period.
At the end of quarantine, asylum seekers are directed to reception centres.
Those "ineligible to apply for protection and are found to have arrived in Italy for other reasons" are sent to detention centres, from where they must await deportation, the report added.
Shakirul Islam, chairperson of Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme (Okup), said trafficking networks are very active in some parts of the country and irregular migration from those areas is more apparent.
A UN report, published last year with support from the Bangladesh government, said there was one conviction in trafficking cases in Bangladesh in 2020 and nine in 2019.
Of all trafficking cases filed in 2020, 89 percent were lodged in Dhaka, Khulna, Chattogram, and Sylhet divisions, it said.
Seheli Sabrin, spokesperson and director general (public diplomacy) of the foreign ministry, said the ministry was working to reduce irregular migration of Bangladeshis.
She said apart from addressing the issue bilaterally with Italy, the ministry has given priority to building awareness among the people, especially in trafficking-prone districts.
To this end, different UN and international agencies as well as relevant ministries are working with the foreign ministry, she told The Daily Star.
The Bangladesh mission in Rome said the rising trend of arrival of Bangladeshis through the Mediterranean route is a matter of grave concern for both Bangladesh and Italy.
Both the countries are committed to stamp out trafficking, and the mission is cooperating with Italy in respect of standard operating procedures (SoPs) under the EU mechanism, it said.