Around six months ago, Bilal, a young man from Sylhet, began his journey towards Europe with three other people. After going through several countries, he met around 80 more Bangladeshis in Tripoli and after spending three months locked in a room was on a boat to cross the Mediterranean. On the way, the boat had a tragic accident, and 70 persons perished, including 37 Bangladeshis.
Bilal was among the ones saved. Many like Bilal dream of going to Europe but a lot of them lose their loves, facing accidents at high sea.
It’s difficult to get the actual statistics of the number of deaths though UNHCR says that in the last seven years, 6906 persons lost their lives while crossing the Mediterranean while more than 12 thousand went missing.
As per Eurostat, from 2008 till 2017, more than one lakh Bangladeshis entered Europe illegally. Of them, 17215 applied for political asylum of which 11,715 were cancelled.
Of the seven routes used to enter Europe illegally, the most popular is the Mediterranean route. Each person has to spend around Tk. 10 to Tk. 14 lakh to go to Europe. The money is taken in advance and sometimes, torture is applied to extract the crossing fee.
Reportedly, from the end of June till August, the tendency is to go to Italy because the sea is calm at this time and crossing by small vessels is less dangerous.
Lampusa Island is 300 km from Libyan coast and people enter Italy through this way. However, since the Libyan security forces are maintaining vigilance on illegal migration, the number of people trying to go to Italy has fallen.
Antar Ali recounts his harrowing experience of entering Europe: I first went to Baghdad in Iraq from where was taken to Kirkut and Kurdistan.
After working a few days as a labourer, I was sent to Turkey on foot.
We walked at night through mountains and rough terrain; then we passed through a jungle for seven hours. Sometimes, we got two loaves of bread; to cross over to Greece, I had to pay Tk. 1 lakh 20 thousand.”
Antar Ali could not stay in Greece for more than six months due to a clampdown on illegal workers. Caught by the police, he was in jail and finally came back to Bangladesh.
Europe is sending back all illegal migrants and Bangladesh has signed a Standard Operating Procedure, SOP, to bring back all those who are illegal in Europe.
Under this, 800 Bangladeshis have been brought back so far.
Head of BRAC’s migration programme, Shariful Hasan, says: “there are many unscrupulous manpower traffickers active in Libya, taking advantage of the turbulent political situation.”
Once someone enters Italy, the entry to 26 states becomes easy; everyone thinks, by some miracle, they will survive, he adds.
Illegal migration can be stopped when “will go abroad at all cost” belief is dispelled.
“Those who spend Tk 800,000 to go to Europe can easily invest that money in the country and make a respectable livelihood.