Throughout 2008 we received reports about how poor men and women were swindled by recruiting agents in Bangladesh and left stranded in hostile foreign country environments. We saw employers in host countries, taking advantage of migrants’ ‘undocumented’ status to abuse their rights and cheat them of payment. When abused workers tried to protest, it led to ‘bad press’ for ‘Bangladeshi workers’ as a category, and many were sent back en masse. Some governments threatened to stop recruiting Bangladeshi workers altogether, leading to weak and ineffective diplomatic overtures from our side. While the latest press headline reports overseas remittances hitting a new high, the year 2008 ended with another tragedy. 300 Bangladeshi men headed for Malaysia drowned in the sea near the Andaman Islands.
Hana Shams Ahmed
[STAR magazine, 09 January, 2009]
According to press reports from Reuters, 412 men, mostly of Bangladeshi nationality, were promised jobs in Malaysia by unidentified recruiting agents. On 14 November these men, aged between 18 and 60, set sail on six motorised vehicles. At some point during their journey, the men changed vessels, according to an Indian coast guard statement. One survivor, identified as Mohammad Ismail Arafat, said he and others had paid a Bangladeshi agent for jobs in Malaysia. The boats they were travelling in did not have enough food in them and seven of the men died from starvation. After drifting around aimlessly for days, they finally spotted a lighthouse somewhere along the Andaman Islands. Hoping they would be able to swim ashore, the men jumped into the sea. Indian coast guard officials said a group of men were rescued from a small boat near Little Andaman Island, from the water. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands lie about 1,200km (750 miles) east of the Indian mainland. Coastguards finally rescued a total of 112 men. The remaining 300 men drowned at sea.