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Dhaka Tribune

Bangladeshi ‘Dunki’: The harrowing tale of a Bangladeshi youth surviving human trafficking

This harrowing account comes from Laju Miah, a 24-year-old resident of Gaibandha, lured into the clutches of human traffickers with promises of a better life

Update : 23 Feb 2024, 01:06 PM

"Every day, they subjected me to beatings three times, my hands and feet bound before the onslaught. My mouth was taped over to stifle any screams of agony. Plastic or iron pipes were wielded mercilessly by our abductors, demanding ransom money from our families back home. Thus, day and night blurred into a lonely abyss. Trapped alongside 400 to 500 others in a grim room, we were afforded only a single meal. The torture has left me with fragmented memories, the trauma clouding my recollection. Yet, by the grace of God, I have survived to tell the tale. Those unfortunate souls who perished under the relentless brutality were callously disposed of, their bodies cast into the unforgiving sea."

This harrowing account comes from Laju Miah, a 24-year-old resident of Gaibandha, lured into the clutches of human traffickers with promises of a better life. Sold to the Libyan mafia, his dreams of reaching Italy shattered.

Laju's agonizing journey culminated in his return to Bangladesh on February 18, a testament to his resilience amidst unspeakable suffering. His ordeal was documented by a compassionate judge in a Comilla court on February 19.

Facing threats and extortion from a trafficking ring, Laju's father filed a case at the Chandina police station in Comilla, seeking justice for his son's torment.

Laju Miah with his father and sister. Photo: Nuruzzaman Labu/Bangla Tribune

Libya stands as a notorious gateway for human trafficking, with countless hopeful souls risking their lives to traverse the perilous Mediterranean Sea in pursuit of European shores. Tragically, many perish at sea, when the boats carrying them sink. Ruthless exploitation pushes them to tragedy.

On February 13, a boat carrying 53 passengers from Libya to Italy sank off the coast of Tunisia in the Mediterranean Sea, killing nine people. Eight of them were Bangladeshis. Of the 44 people rescued alive, 27 were Bangladeshis.

How Laju Miah was taken to Libya

Laju Miah, hailing from Jibonpur village in Gaibandha, recounted the story of his journey, spurred by promises of a better life abroad. 

It was Mizanur, the brother of a local resident named Shahrul residing in Libya, who initially allured Laju with the prospect of lucrative employment opportunities in Libya.

Shahrul's wife and Mizanur frequently visited Laju's household, telling him about high-paying jobs in Libya, gradually coaxing him into considering the venture. Eventually, enticed by Shahrul's offer of a monthly salary of Tk45,000 in exchange for Tk5 lakh, Laju decided to go abroad.

Embarking on his journey on June 10, 2022, Laju's voyage started from Dhaka to Dubai, where he was greeted by two fellow Bangladeshis who handed him documents for his onward journey. From Dubai, he boarded a flight to Qatar, then another to Lebanon, followed by transit through Egypt and Syria, finally arriving in Benghazi, Libya. At each stop, members of the human trafficking syndicate facilitated his transit.

Transported to a camp in Benghazi under the guidance of a gang member named Khokon, Laju found himself among approximately 40 other Bangladeshi youths. After a brief four-day stay, they were ferried to Tripoli via a grueling 25-hour car journey, during which Shahrul and his accomplice Asadul extorted $2,000 from Laju.

Upon arrival in Tripoli's Benewali area, Laju soon realized the falsity of the promised job with its enticing salary. 

Instead, he endured days on meager meals. When Shahrul was pressed about the job, he started making excuses.

Eventually, Shahrul enticed him with the prospect of a transit to Italy through his associate Jasim, demanding an additional Tk7.5 lakh for the arrangement.

Having already paid Tk5 lakh to the traffickers for his passage to Libya, Laju found himself trapped, unable to return home without recouping his investment. 

Succumbing to Shahrul's coercion, Laju asked his farmer father, Abul Kashem, to fork over another Tk7.5 lakh as stipulated by Shahrul. 

Reluctantly, Abul Kashem transferred Tk5 lakh to Jasim through a member of the trafficking network.

Laju’s journey by sea

After the funds transfer, Jasim escorted Laju to an establishment in Tripoli as promised. Following a brief stay there, they were relocated to another house situated in Juara along the Mediterranean coast.

Throughout the day he was given a loaf of bread, called Khubzit in Libya, and a little tuna fish.

Then, one night, they were abruptly summoned and hurried onto a boat, their possessions and money hastily gathered as they were ushered on board, clad only in shorts and T-shirts.

The vessel carried a total of 53 individuals, predominantly Bangladeshis numbering 50. 

As they ventured further into the sea, they encountered the ominous presence of the Libyan militia known as Kalabush, who relentlessly pursued them, firing at the boat. After a tense three-hour chase, they were intercepted and apprehended.

Subsequently, they found themselves confined to a prison-like facility for several days, detained by armed individuals clad in black attire.

The men, armed and wearing black uniforms, said they were not allowed to leave by the boat. Then he was sold by the Libyan militia to another mafia ring leader Sharif.  

Sold to mafia

Laju recounted the horrifying ordeal that ensued after he was sold by the Libyan militia to the notorious mafia leader, Sharif, hailing from Chandina, Comilla, Bangladesh.

Transported to a detention camp named Al Zoain under Sharif's control, Laju found himself ensnared in a nightmare. Despite repeated attempts to reach out to Jasim for assistance, Laju discovered to his dismay that Jasim was complicit in their exploitation, having been part of the trafficking ring all along. Shockingly, each captive was valued at Tk12.5 lakh and sold like commodities.

Indescribable torture

The harrowing saga of torture started in Sharif's crowded facility, accommodating an excess of 500 fellow Bangladeshis forced to endure squalid conditions. 

Forced to sleep on bare floors, they were afforded only a meager meal and a blanket, while armed sentinels stood watch.

In a sinister turn of events, Sharif and Eman, another member of the trafficking ring, came to their room, telling them to call their families and ask them to pay a ransom of Tk12.5 lakh each.

Unable to meet these demands, the captives faced unspeakable torment. Bound, gagged with scotch tape plastered over their faces, and subjected to relentless beatings, the brutality was videotaped and sent to their desperate families. 

Laju said: "They have tortured so much that it is difficult to express them in words. I only called Allah to free me from this torture. I called my family and asked them to pay as much money as they wanted. But I knew we could not afford to pay that much. In the end, I left everything to Allah.”

How Laju Miah was rescued

Abul Kashem, Laju's father, recounted the distressing moment when a call from a foreign number on the instant messaging app Imo shattered their world. The voice on the other end delivered a chilling ultimatum: Tk12.5 lakh in exchange for Laju's freedom. 

The sheer desperation of the situation left Abul Kashem reeling. It was Salma, who is like a daughter to Abul Kashem, who spearheaded the efforts to rescue Laju, navigating a labyrinth of legal hurdles with unwavering determination.

In a whirlwind of panic, they hastily departed for Dhaka, seeking assistance from the authorities. 

Laju Miah poses a photo with his sister. Photo: Nuruzzaman Labu/Bangla Tribune

Their journey led them to the gates of the DB office on Minto Road, where they told officials of their misfortune. 

One of the officials at DB advised them to go to Sarwar Alam, deputy secretary at the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare.

They went to Sarwar Alam the next day and told him of the incident. Sarwar Alam had once served as  Executive Magistrate of RAB. He sent them to the RAB-1 office.

Abul Kashem said that the trafficking gang from Libya was repeatedly pressuring them to pay.

He took seven days to raise the money. In this, with the help of RAB, a plan was made to catch whoever comes to collect the money. 

He collected a picture of a bundle worth Tk12 lakh from a neighbor and sent it to the abductors.

A person named Suman came to take the  money after seeing that picture.

Salma said with the joint help of RAB-1 and RAB-11, they detained three people named Suman, Shihab and Anwar.

A case was promptly registered against the perpetrators at Chandina police station in Comilla, leading to their remand. Among them, Anwar and Shihab were revealed to be relatives of the infamous mafia leader Sharif.

Representational image: Photo: Collected

Despite the gang's continued efforts to instill fear and intimidation, Salma and Abul Kashem remained steadfast, refusing to yield to their demands. Eventually, their resilience bore fruit as Laju was liberated from captivity, albeit after enduring unimaginable suffering.

Salma said that when Laju was released, he went straight to the Bangladesh Embassy in Tripoli, only to see him getting rejected. 

However, with the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and expatriate welfare officers, arrangements were made for his accommodation at a local hotel. 

Following a month-long ordeal related to bureaucratic procedures, Laju finally returned home.

Laju's father Abul Kashem said that the brokers took about Tk12 lakh for his son. To bring Laju back, about Tk20 lakh has been spent, including for prosecution. He had to sell 22 decimals of his farming land.

Now he fervently advocates for the stringent punishment of those responsible for subjecting his son to such unspeakable horrors, longing for justice to be served as a beacon of hope amidst their darkest hour.

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