Chittagong's Shah Amanat Airport ‘safe gateway’ for human traffickers

Against a backdrop of numerous drives and statements of those rescued from the hands of unscrupulous elements, the law enforcers and district authorities have zeroed in on Chittagong's Shah Amanat International Airport as a "safe gateway" for human traffickers.

Mitoon Chowdhurybdnews24.com
Published : 14 Oct 2016, 12:43 PM
Updated : 14 Oct 2016, 02:34 PM

The clearly worried officials have remarked that the route seems favourable to traffickers with vigilance getting stricter at Dhaka's Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

A total 50 people were rescued in the last one and a half years as they were about to be trafficked to Libya.

According to their statement, 21 people had left through the Shah Amanat Airport on Wednesday and in the last six months thousands of others had flown to Libya through the port city's airport.

Md Sirajuddin Belal, an officer at Justice and Care, an NGO, told bdnews24.com that trafficking to Libya was fully on although export of manpower had been prohibited for the country.

He claimed that the traffickers were using the airport as their "safe gateway" for travelling by air.

Law enforcers have held three suspected human traffickers from the airport in the last 18 months and found out that foreigners were involved with middlemen in such acts.

On May 12 last year, CID, the police crime investigative unit, rescued 11 persons moments before they could be trafficked to Libya on a Dubai flight.

A day before, the police had detained three suspected human traffickers from Borhopol area of Chittagong and recovered 33 passports - 17 with Libyan visas and one with an Egyptian visa on them.

The detained confessed that they had been trafficking people through the Shah Amanat International Airport and had trafficked around 500 people to Libya in the one month before being arrested.

In its latest drive against trafficking, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) rescued 39 people from the airport on Wednesday. The rescued gave statements that they got interested in taking the "opportunity" of going abroad after seeing many of their relatives and neighbours fly to Libya and Italy by using the same source.

RAB 7 leader Lt Col Miftah Uddin said a total 140 were scheduled to fly on the 10am and 12:30pm flights on Wednesday. Of them, 21 could not be rescued.

"21 people boarded the flight after finishing immigration formalities. The remaining 19 were barred as irregularities were found about their visas and documents," said the RAB officer.

All of them had been issued 30 days’ travel visas on Oct 5.

One of the rescued, Fahim Uddin, told bdnews24.com that he had made a Tk 500,000 deal with middlemen to travel to Italy.

Fahim, who hails from Boiragibazar village of Sylhet, revealed that at least 200 people from his village had gone to Libya and 40 people to Italy in the same process some six months ago.

Hossain Ahmed of Hamzapur village of Sylhet made a similar statement.

"At least 1000 people of my area have gone to Italy and Libya in the last six months. They have talked to their relatives over phone after reaching their destinations," he said.

Hossain said that he had accepted the proposal of a middleman after being "certain" of the matter.

Talking to the 10 rescued, this correspondent found that nine of them were unemployed and most of them were school drop-outs.

Mohammad Liton from Sunamganj's Chhatak said he used to sell IPS in his area and had to sell off his shop after incurring losses in his business. He gave Sumon and Shajeeb Tk 420,000 for going to Libya to earn a living. He said he had known the two men from before.

Though he had no idea what he would do after going to Libya, the middlemen had assured him that he would have a job that would bring him around Tk 60,000 a month.

RAB officials suspect that Liton was planning to go to Italy as a life jacket was found in his possession.

Many of these illegal immigration seekers are choosing to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to go to Italy. Reports of many drowning in the sea and others being rescued in the process have been making headlines in the international media recently.

Jahirul Alam Majumder, Assistant Manager of the Employment and Manpower Office in Chittagong, said the tendency of going abroad in such illegal ways has been growing among people. They are falling into the trap of middlemen in hopes of a better life.

"The government has clamped restrictions on travelling to Libya. Italy's economic situation is also not steady. Many are choosing to go there despite knowing the facts. But they say that they did not know anything when they are caught," he told bdnews24.com.

They have chosen Chittagong airport because of the tightened security at Dhaka Airport. If security is strengthened further at immigration, then such practices might stop, he opined.

"We do not have the authority to verify the travel visas. So stricter rules are needed at immigration," he said.

Justice and Care official Md Sirajuddin Belal said a vast network of middlemen centering on human trafficking had been flourishing in Chittagong.

"Those opting for illegal immigration are kept at the residential hotels located in Chittagong's Reazuddin Market area. Such unsafe immigration practices will stop if vigilance is intensified," he said.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher