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A passage to Italy: Death and dismay

  • Published at 08:05 pm June 18th, 2017
A passage to Italy: Death and dismay
This is the second instalment of a four-part series For a Bangladeshi to illegally migrate to Italy, risks await at every step of the journey. But neither warnings nor reports of death ever dissuade a Bangladeshi who aspires of a life in Europe. The Mediterranean crossing is fraught with peril, and the traffickers often extort further money. Rishat and Rana, two Bangladeshi migrants currently residing in an Italian refugee camp near Naples, shared their experience of the journey with the Dhaka Tribune.

Double-crossed

It seldom comes as a surprise when the traffickers in Libya frequently shift the migrants from one location to another, citing “security” concerns. Sometimes they are relocated before the voyage and sometimes during the voyage itself. At these junctures, many migrants find themselves held against their will, held for ransom. Rishat discussed his encounter: “There were about 140 people on the rubber boat. Most of them, about 80 approximately were Africans and the other 60 Bangladeshis like me. As soon as we boarded the boat, we were threatened by the traffickers armed with guns and knives. All their pretence of treating us like guests or even clients had disappeared, and we were treated like cattle, if not chattel.
Also Read- A passage to Italy: The Libyan connection
“We huddled down on the boat with no room to budge. The ones around the edges were at risk of falling overboard. The ones in the centre were at risk of being squashed by those seeking security in the heart of the boat,” Rishat continued. “After an hour of sailing, we were hailed by a boat carrying a group of armed people who claimed to be a Libyan mafia. They took us to the shore and locked all of us in a farmhouse much like the one we stayed at before setting out,” Rishan went on. He said the migrants were not surprised to find a Bangladeshi greet them. But instead of salutations, he outright demanded another Tk20,000 transferred via Bkash. The Bangladeshi trafficker gave them the opportunity to make a phone call to their families back home and apprise them of the development. Rishat and the others had to survive for two days without any food other than a single Khobz (Moroccan flatbread) each to sustain them. After their families paid the ransom, they were permitted to board the boat and resume their voyage. This time, the voyage lasted for 10 hours until the Italian Navy seized the boat in Italian waters. The migrants surrendered to the navy, following which, they were placed in a refugee camp. For Rana, the ransom was Tk35,000. He said: “Failure to pay the ransom means the Libyan traffickers will hand us over to their authorities who will deport us.”

Migrants die at sea, dreams do not

[caption id="attachment_69864" align="aligncenter" width="768"]Migrants and refugees sit on a rubber boat before to be rescued by the ship Topaz Responder run by Maltese NGO Moas and Italian Red Cross off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea, on November 5, 2016 off the coast of Libya. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO Migrants and refugees sit on a rubber boat before to be rescued by the ship Topaz Responder run by Maltese NGO Moas and Italian Red Cross off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea, on November 5, 2016 off the coast of Libya AFP[/caption] How many Bangladeshis have drowned in the arduous crossing across the Mediterranean remains unknown. The numbers have the potential to be alarmingly high, given the large number of passengers on each boat, and the utter lack of any safety harness or life jackets or lifeboats. The Bangladeshi embassy in Tripoli said they were aware of an incident where 29 Bangladeshis – including two women and three children – died when a boat sunk on its way to Italy in July 2016. An embassy official confided that humanitarian agencies only informed them of the nationalities among the casualties, but not the number of citizens found dead.
Also Read- From the horse’s mouth: A trafficker tells how he smuggles people to Italy
Drowning is not the only threat. Suffocation is another gruesome way to die. Both Rana and Rishat had something common to share. They had both known migrants who had undertaken the voyage across the Mediterranean. But nobody in the refugee camps or the Italian Ministry of Interior could confirm they reached Italian shores alive.

In the next instalment:

A passage to Italy: Life in refugee camps Read on about the life of Bangladeshis in refugee camps in Italy Further reading: A passage to Italy: No other options Read on about how many Bangladeshis are forced to embrace the risk of failure and death to make the perilous journey to Italy via the war-torn nation of Libya. *The names in the story have been changed to protect the identity of the informants

Fazlur Rahman Raju contributed to this report