Human Trafficking and Rohingya Migrant Crisis A Security Concern for Bangladesh & Way Forward


Abdur Rahman Fuad andAbdul Alim Bhuiyan#

In the age of Globalization, human trafficking is a very profitable and lucrative business. Thus, the global human trafficking rate has significantly risen over past decade. In South Asia, Bangladesh has earned a bad name as transit for trafficking women and children. Poor and uneducated women and children are falling prey to these crime networks.
Meanwhile, degradation in the country’s law and order situation and failure to take adequate steps in this regard has also influenced these traffic rings. It has to be noted that illegal flesh trade in the region has risen to an alarming level. In this side, our acknowledgement that,  Bangladeshi men and women migrate willingly to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Lebanon, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries for work, often under legal and contractual terms.h1
In this year, May is the glaring example for human trafficking. Most of them are Bangladeshi and the rest are Rohingya citizens. These recued people may have sense of solace and at least they are relieved from being trafficked.
On May, a series of news on modern-day slave trade and human trafficking in the ‘Dark Triangle’ of Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia have been making headlines in national and international media with the discovery of mass graves in the forests of Shangkhla, Satung and Sadao districts of Thailand. The investigative reports of Asia News Network suggest that over the last eight years at least 250,000 Bangladeshi and Rohingyas were smuggled to Malaysia through Thailand. As the reports show, the fortune seekers were trapped in the vicious cycle of abuses including torture, starvation, captivity, ransoms, forced labor, and humiliating deportation. In the worst cases, they were beaten or starved to death when the perpetrators were unsuccessful in collecting ransoms from family members back home. The victims had to pay from around Tk. 250,000 to 450,000 as costs of the voyage, ransoms, charge for ‘receive house’, intrusion bribe to authorities at destinations and costs of repatriation (Daily Star-12.05.2015).In the first quarter of this year, UNHCR interviewed more than 150 recent maritime arrivals in Thailand and Malaysia who had departed since October 2014 on boats that cumulatively carried an estimated 7,000 passengersh2
A  UNHCR periodic report says, around 25,000 Bangladeshi and Rohingyas  boarded smugglers’ boats from the Bay of Bengal between January and March this year, almost doubling the number over the same period in 2014.
According to interviews of those who have reached Thailand and Malaysia, 300 people are estimated to have died at sea this year and 320 others in the last three months last year as a result of starvation, dehydration and beating by boat crew. Between 40 to 60 percent of 25,000 people are thought to have originated from the Rakhine State of Myanmar, although many of them embarked on the ships from Bangladesh.
In the first quarter of this year, UNHCR interviewed more than 150 recent maritime arrivals in Thailand and Malaysia who had departed since October 2014 on boats that cumulatively carried an estimated 7,000 passengers. There has been a slight increase in the proportion of female passengers leaving from the Bay, from 10 percent in the first three quarters of 2014 to 14 percent in the last quarter of the same year.h3

Human Trafficking and Human Rights:
The medieval atrocities that the victims were subjected to not only implicate a serious insult to humanity and violations of human rights, but also raise important questions as to how much we care about the safety of these people who risk their lives to make a better living through overseas employment and turn contributes on a large scale to the national economy.
In response to pressing needs the government of Bangladesh enacted Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act 2012. This Act complying with the International standards stressed on the protection and implementation of the rights of the victims of human trafficking ensuring safe migration. The Act provides severe punishment for the trafficking offence committed individually (maximum punishment is an imprisonment for life) or as an organized crime (maximum punishment is the death penalty). Also this Act secured more significance than any other law, at least in letters, while addressing not only the preventive measures but also the protective measures for the victims of human trafficking. The measures include the identification, rescue, repatriation, rehabilitation, social integration, return (when the victim is found in foreign country) of victims of trafficking.h4
This is in spite of a general human rights instrument embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. ‘This instrument provides that everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and his family, including: food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.’
Bangladesh does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. However, it is making significant efforts to do so. Authorities investigated and prosecuted more cases under the 2012 Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act (PSHTA), but continued to convict only a small number of traffickers. Bangladesh lacked a formal referral mechanism and authorities did not adequately train police and other public officials on identifying and assisting victims. While the government implemented stricter criteria in granting licenses to recruitment agents, it continued to allow extremely high and legal recruitment fees.

There are a number of prosecutions and disposals of Human Trafficking cases in 2012
Source:  Bangladesh Country  Report,  2012

Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, came under mounting pressure from the international community to provide humane treatment to more thousands of Bangladeshi and Rohingya boat people and these country were downgraded to the lowest Tier 3 of the US report on Trafficking in Persons last year, were blamed for having shown little appetite to provide shelter to them while thousands of them reportedly were abandoned floating in the sea.
Bangladesh does not fully regard with the minimum standards for the decreasing of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government has continued to address the sex trafficking of women and children. Despite these significant efforts, the government did not demonstrate evidence of increased efforts to prosecute and convict labor trafficking offenders, particularly those responsible for the fraudulent recruitment of Bangladeshi workers for the purpose of forced labor overseas.
Comparatively high cost of securing overseas jobs through proper channels, ignorance about due procedures for applying for such jobs, poverty, unemployment, and little knowledge about the peril of illegal sea voyage are among the reasons why people fall prey to human traffickers.In the issues, the one that needs urgent attention is implementation of the anti-trafficking law. The hurdles to enforcement of the law should be cleared immediately.

By the upgrading skills of lower-income Bangladeshis and creating decent jobs for them could be quite handy in the fight against human trafficking, as the moves would certainly discourage the possible victims of trafficking from leaving the country illegally.
According to Bangladesh Labor Force Survey 2013, at the end of that year country’s total labor force stood at 6.07 core, up from 5.67 core recorded three years ago. Twenty-six lack people were totally unemployed in 2013. (Source: Daily star- 10.05.15)

Recommendation and Way Forward for Bangladesh
Finalize, adopt, and disseminate the implementing rules for the PSHTA and train government officials on its implementation; take steps to sharply reduce all recruitment fees charged by licensed labor recruiters, and enforce violations with criminal sanctions; increase efforts to prosecute trafficking cases and convict trafficking offenders, particularly labor trafficking offenders, while strictly respecting due process; increase the training provided to government officials, including law enforcement, labor inspectors, and immigration officers, on methods to proactively identify trafficking cases; expand the support services available to trafficking victims, particularly adult male and forced labor victims.
Raise awareness of the general people as well as specific targeted groups in 41 districts that’s littoral area.
Assist in creating income generation opportunities for the vulnerable people to prevent them from being trafficked.
Reduce the vulnerability of children, adolescent girls and women from being trafficked through IGA training and linking with micro-credith5
Improve public, private and NGO services for the survivors of trafficking for their reintegration in the society / families as well as for potential victims.

Provide support to the survivors of trafficking for their reintegration in the society / families through capacity building of public, private and NGO services.
Strengthen the capacity of the Judicial and LEA (Law Enforcement Agency) officials to manage trafficking cases through number of trainings.
Develop the capacity of government officials for sustainability of integrated approach to address trafficking in children, adolescent girls and women.
Engage NGO network for integrated and coordinated interventions to build the capacity of the grassroots NGOs as well as to support the government.

Equal emphasis should be placed upon the capture and prosecution of locals, foreigners, and government officials alike, which contributes to the atmosphere of impunity. Prosecution of crimes related to violence against women, including rape, must be increased along with the stiffening of sentences for those persons convicted. Non-governmental and international community should give clearer funding priorities to the issue and ensure that women and girl children receive the physical and psychological protection. In addition, more coordination is needed between the national and international humanitarian, human rights, anti-trafficking, and anti-corruption movements to avoid     repetition, wasteful spending, and confusing mandates. It is high time we dealt with the curse of human trafficking once and for all. This problem could have been addressed had there been effective measures in place well in time.