Being subjected to electric shocks, getting fingernails pulled out by pliers, and getting severe blisters from boiling water being poured over the body – are some of the few tortures Bangladeshi migrants had to face during their captivity in foreign lands by profit-hungry brokers.
Speaking at a programme in the city’s Dhaka Reporters Unity auditorium yesterday, several victims of immigration scams recounted horrendous tales about how they were cheated out of their life savings, sold into slavery, and then tortured in captivity for ransoms from their families in Bangladesh.
“I paid a recruitment agency Tk4.5 lakh to go to abroad two years back, but had to finally return home losing Tk8.15 lakh in total. My family had to pay Tk3.65 lakh ransom to save my life,” Md Ilias – a returnee migrant worker hailing from Barisal – told the programme titled “Ordeals of Migrants, Implementation of Migration Act 2013.”
The programme was organised by an online news agency, and NGOs WARBE Development Foundation and AWO.
Saying that he made the initial payment to Polytrade International, a recruitment agency at Road 7 in Gulshan 1, Ilias claimed he remained stuck in Dubai for months as the agency actually provided him a tourist visa.
“At one stage, I met a Bangladeshi who offered me a job in Oman. He did not want any money and said I could pay his fees by working in Oman.”
Despite being promised only a 20-minute walk to enter Oman where a promising future lay ahead, little did Ilias know that a harrowing ordeal was waiting for him.
“We were 19 Bangladeshis in number and we walked the whole night in jungle, mountain and desert before finally stopping in a jungle beside a river. We were given only a bottle of water when we started the journey. The brokers beat us up several times whenever we became tired or asked for a break,” Ilias added.
The group was then handed over to some Pakistani brokers who then took them to an island in Iran. “There was a dense jungle. We smelled decomposed bodies. When asked, one of the Pakistanis said some Bangladeshi migrants who were in a previous team had died there,” he narrated.
After days of being confined in a cave, the victims were asked to pay Tk5 lakh as the brokers had “spent the money” to bring them to the island. After being refused, the Pakistanis started to torture and asked the captive men for phone numbers of their parents.
“I told them I could not remember any of my family members’ phone number. So, they added more brutality in their torture. One day, one of the brokers tried to pull out my fingernails with a plier. So, I phoned my maternal cousin at home. Finally they arranged Tk3.65 lakh by selling land and borrowing money,” Ilias said.
Finally one day, Iranian law enforcers rescued the captive Bangladeshis. “We were in jail for several months. Later Iranian law enforcers released us and pushed into the Pakistani border. From there, with the help of a broker, we returned home,” Ilias said, adding that the process cost another Tk65,000.
“I saw some of the migrants die. The brokers tortured them with electric shock, pulling up nails, pouring hot water on body and forcing them to keep standing for two-three days,” he said.
Ilias said he has filed a case against Polytrade International’s manager Golam Mortuja with the Gulshan police station, but law enforcers were yet to arrest him.
Also addressing reporters, Ishaque Faruki, another victim hailing from Patuakhali, said he paid Tk9 lakh ransom to Bangladeshi brokers to save his own life, but could not escape tortures like denailing and lashing.
“I was sold four times as a slave in the three years I was abroad, and the worrying matter was that all of the brokers in Iran were Bangladeshi.
“They collect ransom from Bangladesh by SA Paribahan Courier Service. Some Chinese helped them to take us to an Iranian island from Oman. Total 16 of us died; of them, three died when we were floating on a small vessel in the Arab sea. I think some officials of the courier service are also involved with the ransom business. They should be punished,” Faruki said.
Asma Akhtar Daliya, hailing from Narayanganj, said she flew to Dubai on promises of a high-paid job, but was put into work as a domestic help. For five months she worked there, the entire time being physically and mentally abused.
Although promised a 750 dirham salary a month, she was eventually paid nothing by the mistress of the house, who sold Daliya to an Indian woman for 5,000 dirham. On her third month of work for the Indian woman, Daliya broke a medicine bottle and was consequently beaten up and sent to the airport with only a ticket back home and no salary paid, Daliya told reporters.
When asked about the measures being taken to compensate victims of such scam, Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain said those who raised the allegations had all used illegal measures to travel abroad; so, there was nothing that could be done about them.
Some NGOs were exploiting these migrants for their own business, he claimed, adding that the government has a Tk100 crore fund for those who were cheated after abroad through legal ways. If they could produce legal documents and smart cards, then the government would take steps to compensate them, the minister assured.
At one point during the conversation with the Dhaka Tribune, Mosharraf became enraged and cursed the migrants who used illegal measures to travel abroad, saying the government repeatedly told all migrants that the government would take care of them if they chose to travel through a legal way.