Forty-four eminent citizens and 19 migrant rights bodies have demanded immediate and unconditional release of migrants who were arrested upon their return from Vietnam and the Middle East.
In two separate statements, they also called for an independent investigation and punishment of manpower brokers, recruiting agents and officials responsible for fraudulence and exploitation of the migrants.
On September 1, 83 migrants including two from Qatar, were sent to jail on grounds that “they have tarnished the image of Bangladesh abroad”.
Another group of migrants were charged Tk 4-5 lakh each by recruiting agents for jobs in Vietnam. They travelled there late last year and early this year but were not provided jobs as promised. They were also not paid though they had clearance from the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training.
Early this July, they went to the Bangladesh embassy in Hanoi to complain and demand repatriation. Eventually, Bangladesh embassy arranged their repatriation. Upon returning home, they were put into quarantine for 14 days and then were shown arrested under Section 54.
Police said the arrestees were convicted or sentenced to different terms for their involvement in criminal activities. When the coronavirus outbreak surged worldwide, their sentences were commuted and they were sent back to Bangladesh.
After returning to Bangladesh, they allegedly divided into groups while in quarantine and were planning subversive activities against the government, and if these returnees are released, they can engage in various crimes, including robbery, violence, killing and militancy.
Surprisingly, the same allegations were made earlier when 219 migrant workers from Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain were jailed. Both the groups of returnees were arrested under Section 54.
In the statement, the 44 eminent citizens strongly condemned the case and arrest. Such acts by the state are disrespectful to the international and national laws and is a matter of serious concern.
“We got to learn that none of the returnee migrants from Vietnam was convicted or sent to the jail,” said the statement, adding that they also learned that the Bangladesh embassy in Vietnam did not take proper actions to address their complaints in time.
The language of the police report in regard to the arrest of 219 migrants on July 4 was the same.
“It is not understandable for us how the returnees tarnished the country’s image after returning from jails abroad and by holding meetings during the quarantine,” it said.
At the same time, arresting under Section 54 without arrest warrant contradicts the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. The High Court has clear instructions for police, magistrate and tribunal before starting criminal proceedings.
“We think arrests of migrants in two incidents are violation of the important High Court instructions,” the citizens and rights activists said.
The statement was signed among others by Prof Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury, Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury of Gonoshastya Kendra; Prof Anu Muhammad of Jahangirnagar University; jurist Shahdeen Malik; Prof Parveen Hasan of Central Women’s University; Prof Ali Riaz of Illinois State University; Prof Golam Mostafa of Chittagong University; Prof CR Abrar of Dhaka University; Prof Swapan Adnan of London University and photojournalist and writer Shahidul Alam.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants (BCSM), a civil society network of organizations working on migration, said such arrests on unfounded allegations are violation of human rights.
“We demand an impartial investigation into this incident. All concerned persons and organizations including sub-agents, licensed recruiting agents and others must be brought under investigation,” it said, urging the Foreign and Expatriates’ Welfare ministries for immediate measures.
The signatories to the statement, among others, include Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, WARBE Development Foundation, BRAC, Ain o Salish Kendra, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Bangladeshi Ovhibashi Mohila Sramik Association, BASUG and OKUP.