About 1,700 Bangladeshi migrants are now working in Vietnam, even though Bangladesh has no manpower export deal with the country. How did that happen?
Mohammad Russell, 23, from Shariatpur sadar upazila of Dhaka went to Vietnam on February 9 seeking employment.
He was working at his family business when recession hit. To support his family and his brothers he decided to go to Vietnam in hopes of earning more.
He paid a local broker Tk500,000 who sent him to Vietnam via Mumbai, India, through the MRT International recruiting agency in Dhaka.
Russell told Dhaka Tribune he was promised a good job with free food and accommodation and was provided with a Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) card.
However, on reaching Vietnam he realized that as Vietnam did not provide a contract or a valid work permit for Bangladeshis, he had to work for very low wages.
After his visa expired, instead of paying him his salary, he was detained and physically tortured for more money.
When he sought help at the Bangladesh Embassy, he was brought to Bangladesh and was arrested on charges of tarnishing Bangladesh’s image.
There are 105 others who are in the same predicament as Russell.
Everyone had a government-issued BMET card and a three-month travel or business visa issued by the Vietnam Embassy in Dhaka.
Immigration experts and CID officials say there is no agreement between Bangladesh and Vietnam regarding labour export.
So, how do private manpower exporters or recruiting agencies get BMET certification showing a travel or business visa from the Vietnamese Embassy?
Again, how did they cross immigration showing a one-way plane ticket with a travel visa?
Human trafficking angle
The 106 returnees were quarantined in a government facility in Uttara after they returned but were arrested from there on August 1, even before their quarantine ended.
Police say the detainees were involved in various crimes and conspired to tarnish Bangladesh’s image.
The Crime Investigation Department (CID) of police is investigating the case.
The case investigation officer, CID’s SP AKM Akhtaruzzaman said: “After taking Tk4-5 lakh from each person and sending them to a country on a travel visa, extortion and physical torture falls into the category of human trafficking.
“We are looking into the matter.”
On October 8, 47 of the 106 migrant returnees were released. This correspondent talked to five of them, who said they were given a visa and BMET card before immigration at the airport.
What is a BMET card?
The BMET -- after obtaining permission from employers of countries that have manpower contracts with Bangladesh -- collects information on workers from recruiting agencies and provides training.
These workers are then given smart cards or BMET cards for going abroad legally.
However, since Bangladesh does not have an agreement with Vietnam to export labour, there is no opportunity to legally send labour there.
According to BMET records, another 1,700 Bangladeshis are currently working in Vietnam with BMET cards, all of whom have travelled on three-month travel visas at different times.
Bangladeshis are able to travel to 168 countries on student, immigrant, travel, and business visas. The Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment says Bangladesh has agreements with only 17 countries for legal labour export.
Asked how so many people were given smart cards despite Bangladesh not having an agreement with Vietnam, DM Atiqur Rahman, director of BMET (Immigration Employment and Admin), told Dhaka Tribune that Bangladesh has agreements with very few countries to legally export labour.
He said: “Some recruiting agencies bring in recruitment permits for countries where there is no legal agreement to send labour, including Vietnam. We provide smart cards by verifying them individually. It is in the interest of expanding the labour market.”
Also Read - How did Vietnam do it?
He added: “There is no report of 106 people being trafficked to Vietnam. However, if they were kept there forcibly, tortured and subject to extortion, it is a criminal offense.
“We are also looking into whether the recruiting agencies have committed these crimes.”
Immigration expert Asif Munir told Dhaka Tribune that some Bangladeshis enter countries that have no agreement with Bangladesh for exporting labour. There they are often deprived of wages and labour rights.
Again, due to the lack of valid documents, there is little opportunity to seek redressal from the employer. The same thing happened in Vietnam.
Asif, the former Bangladesh head of International Organization for Migration (IOM), said people want to go abroad to be financially prosperous, but the government has to create that path. Now the country is in a compromised state with most countries where labour is being exported legally.
Mamunur Rashid, managing director of SK Global Overseas -- one of the accused agencies according to the CID list -- denied exporting workers to Vietnam from his organization.
Shanto Dev Saha, managing director of Jharna Trade International, said: “I myself have not sent any workers to that country. However, another agency has processed 11 visas in my company’s name.”