Human trafficking is a lucrative business. It is one of countless illegal acts that people engage in, because there is always a demand for people who are capable of secreting a person into a country without any legal hassle.
Most countries have severe anti-human trafficking laws. Since May 2015, Libya has enforced a ban on migrants from Bangladesh. Despite the stern enforcement of such laws, and risk of human cargo dying in passage, human traffickers have developed networks to carry out their work unperturbed. And it is all for the money.
The Dhaka Tribune recently spoke to a Bangladeshi trafficker upon his visit to Bangladesh from Libya, without raising any alarm.
The anonymous trafficker, to be referred henceforth as Mr T, has been living in Tripoli for the past 18 years. It took months of courting to coax him into revealing the reasons the human trafficking trade is flourishing.
The Dhaka Tribune secured an interview with Mr T, at a tea stall in Fakirapool, where he shared his story.
Mr T grew up in Noakhali where he studied till eighth grade. Around 18 years ago, he travelled to Libya on a work visa as a cleaner.
Today, he resides in the seaside Qerqarish district – the most luxurious neighbourhood of the capital city – with a view of the Mediterranean.
His work as a cleaner was mundane and uneventful. The drastic turn came only after his duty as a cleaner ended. Looking to extend his stay, he fell in with human traffickers who congregate at an establishment in Tripoli popularly known as “Bangla Hotel.”
The Bangla Hotel was the hotspot for trafficking activities. Middlemen and traffickers and agents met with each other and their clientele. Mr T, who had quickly learned Arabic, struck up a friendship with a number of Libyan traffickers who indoctrinated him in the tools of the trade.
He said: “There are many people from Noakhali who want to go abroad like me. When they heard from me that it was possible to go to Italy via Libya, they were ecstatic. Europe, the land of dreams, was so close to their grasp” he said as he sipped his tea.
“I never lied to anyone. In all the gruesome and frightening detail, I explained how dangerous the journey to Italy is. But it never dissuades anyone. They know of the people who successfully made the voyage, and that is all they see.”
He went on: “My work is to get people to Libya. People from all over the country, not just Noakhali, come to me to make the trip to Libya.”
Mr T pointed out Madaripur, Shariatpur and Sylhet as the regions from where most illegally Italy-bound people are coming.
The Dhaka Tribune, by collating information from people who made the successful sea voyage across the Mediterranean, estimates the entire trip costs Tk4.5 lakhs to Tk6.5 lakhs.
The human trafficker broke down the numbers, and with a grin, said the profit is more than 200%.
Italy! Italy! Get your passes to Italy!
Local middlemen arrange for clients by promising there will be no costs, none at all, involved, until the trip to Libya is successfully made.
Temptation wins every single time.
People from rural areas who dream of going overseas, are lured in by these promises. The biggest trick is not promising the trip to Italy. Bangladeshi traffickers only facilitate the passage to Libya. The Libya to Italy stretch is completely out of their hands.
Mr T said: “What we say is that you have to go to Libya. The person who will receive you there will arrange for your trip to Italy.”
The entire process is called “body contract” according to Mr T.
These are two separate deals. But the liability is never with the Bangladeshi traffickers. Since the more grievous danger is in traversing the Mediterranean on a boat, the Libya contact makes clear the risks involved. But even when tragedy strikes, grieving families cannot take out their frustration on a person resting comfortably in Libya.
Also Read- A passage to Italy: The Libyan connection
How to go to Italy via Libya
The human traffickers bear all costs of the travellers until they reach Libya. First, visa for Libya or Egypt or Sudan is acquired for Tk2,000-Tk3,500. A “recruiting agency” arranges for the visas.
But the travellers are told the visa costs more than Tk50,000.
Secondly, the authorities at Shahjalal Int’l Airport in Dhaka are bribed between Tk30,000-Tk60,000. The amount varies, depending on how tight the security measures are.
Thirdly, plane tickets are booked for Tk50,000-Tk60,000 by the same recruiting agency.
Lastly, every traveller is given $1000 (Tk80,000) to be paid to their contact in Libya upon landing.
After everything has been arranged, the travellers are asked to produce a guarantor who will hold the money to be paid to the agency upon successfully completing the trip to Libya.
The guarantors wait with Tk4lakhs-Tk4.5lakhs at the Dhaka office of the recruiting agencies throughout the duration of the flight.
Once the travellers reach Tripoli successfully, their guarantor hands over the money to the traffickers.
According to Mr T’s estimates, the least profit they can make per traveller is Tk90,000.
The Libya connection
The person who receives them in Libya then proceeds to arrange for their trip to Italy.
The hazardous crossing to Italy costs between Libyan Dinars 1,000-1,300. The traveller’s who are given the wrong impression, think the amount is in US Dollars. The conversion rate of USD to Libyan Dinar is 1:1.37. The Bangladeshi traffickers make an extra income on the side by scalping this money.
And for connecting the Libyan traffickers to the travellers, the Bangladeshi traffickers receive a commission on the paid amount. Mr T usually gets $270-$551 per traveller.
Usually the amount is paid through money launderers. But at times, travellers carry the amount on them in cash.
Mr T arranged for his family to collect the fees from the travellers’ families, thereby further increasing his incomes by laundering money.
The best broker is money
When asked about kidnapping travellers for ransom, he denied doing any such thing. But he admitted that these things happen, and they cost the family a lot more.
Lastly, when asked about the dangers of Libyan militias, Mr T said: “Why would they harm me or my clients? They are making money through me” and broke into raucous laughter.