Bangladesh detains more migrant workers

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Bangladeshi authorities have sent to jail at least 370 returning migrant workers since 4 July 2020. The latest victims of this arbitrary detention include 32 Bangladeshi workers who were sent to jail on 28 September. The workers were arrested in Syria while attempting to migrate to Italy, Greece and other European countries through recruitment brokers. The Syrian government commuted their jail terms due to the COVID-19 pandemic and sent them to Lebanon. They arrived in Bangladesh on 13 September, stayed in quarantine for two weeks. Afterwards the police sent them to jail.

Amnesty International has obtained copies of gravely concerning police requests to Dhaka’s magistrate court seeking detention of the workers until they can determine their offence. The police stated that the workers have “tarnished the image of the country” by allegedly engaging criminal activities abroad and could engage in crimes within Bangladesh in future. It is even more distressing that Dhaka’s magistrate court has granted such requests without any specific allegation against the individuals, in violation of international human rights law including the Article 9 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This arrest of the 32 workers follows a disturbing trend since 4 July 2020, when the police sought detention of 219 Bangladeshi workers – 141 from Kuwait, 39 from Bahrain and 39 from Qatar – on the same ground. On 21 July, the police sought detention of another 36 returning migrant workers from Qatar citing that they could engage in robbery, family conflicts or terrorism if they are released. On 1 September, the police sent another 81 returning migrant workers from Vietnam and 2 others from Qatar to jail on similar grounds and charges. 

All the workers were sent to jail under section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows the police to arrest someone on the basis of having “reasonable suspicion” that they may be involved in an act of offence outside Bangladesh.

Shahin, 28, had worked in Lebanon as a tailor for four years. His father Liton Borhania, 50, told Amnesty International that he paid nearly $6,000 (BDT 500,000) to recruitment brokers to facilitate Shahin’s travel to Lebanon in February 2015. Since then Shahin, the eldest five brothers and one sister, has been supporting his family with household expenditures and his younger siblings’ educational expenses.

Many Bangladeshis become victims of human trafficking in the hope of finding a well-paying job abroad, particularly in the Gulf countries. They are exploited by traffickers who promise them steady jobs and good money only to be subsequently exploited by employers for less pay, more work or threatened with jail terms for illegal stays [See: Amnesty International, COVID-19 makes Gulf countries’ abuse of migrant workers impossible to ignore, 30 April 2020].

Rights activists in Bangladesh have said that by arresting the workers, who have served their sentences in the foreign land or been through traumatic experience after they were exploited by human traffickers, it is the Bangladesh government itself which is tarnishing the image of the country.

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