Dozens of Bangladesh migrants trafficked to Vanuatu stuck in limbo

In this May 11, 2015, file photo, Illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh arrive at the Langkawi police station's multi purpose hall in Langkawi, Malaysia. (AP)
Updated 26 March 2019
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Dozens of Bangladesh migrants trafficked to Vanuatu stuck in limbo

  • Once the migrants landed in Vanuatu, they were forced to work at a construction site building a market, subjected to beatings, and denied the money they were promised, Rashid said

DHAKA: Dozens of Bangladeshis who say they were trafficked to Vanuatu with the promise of jobs are stuck in limbo and struggling to survive while awaiting justice and the option of returning home.
About 101 migrants who arrived in the Pacific island nation over the course of the last two years say they were promised decent work, but ended up being exploited by their supposed bosses — who were arrested in November on trafficking charges.
Four Bangladeshis charged with trafficking are due in court in Vanuatu next month, said the Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition, a charity that is supporting the alleged victims along with the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Bangladesh officials say they have asked Vanuatu and the IOM — which is facilitating dialogue between the two governments — to provide details about their citizens in order to start the repatriation process, but have received no information to date.
Vanuatu’s interior minister, Andrew Soloman Napuat, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the government would wait for a court decision before taking any steps to repatriate the group.
In the meantime, the migrants, all men and two children, are surviving on rations and handouts — and fearful for the future.
“If we stay here, there’s nothing; if we go home, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Harun Or Rashid, who was promised a job in Australia, adding that the men were worried about how they will repay loans to relatives and banks at home.
Lured by the promise of jobs as salesmen in Vanuatu and nearby Australia, the Bangladeshis said they had sold property and taken out loans worth up to $20,000 to pay for the move.
Once the migrants landed in Vanuatu, they were forced to work at a construction site building a market, subjected to beatings, and denied the money they were promised, Rashid said.
“Some in the group believe that it’s better to commit suicide here, because there seems to be no way out,” he added by phone from a house in the capital, Port Vila, where 30 of the migrants were staying and receiving support from the government.
The migrants said they are stuck in limbo as they are witnesses in the case against their traffickers but lack the right to work. Several said they would like the chance to earn money in Vanuatu instead of being returned home in the future.

DUPED
One of the largest exporters of manpower in the world, Bangladesh depends heavily on remittances from abroad. According to official data, at least 1 million Bangladeshis secured jobs abroad in 2017 — the highest number ever recorded.
But this depends largely upon unlicensed brokers working in rural areas and opens the door to trafficking, campaigners say.
The 101 migrants say they were duped by a network of brokers in the central Bangladeshi cities of Tangail and Barisal, who transported them to Vanuatu via India, Singapore and Fiji.
A broker in Bangladesh was arrested last year after Harun’s family filed a complaint in Tangail, police records show.
One migrant who declined to give his name said he owned a garment factory back home and went to Vanuatu as he was told he would be able to export clothes to a market run by Bangladeshis.
When he arrived, the man realized he had been conned.
“It was just a show. The market was just a bunch of tents ... constructed by the Bangladeshis who were trafficked here. I have lost everything because of the traffickers,” he said, adding that his factory had closed down in his absence.
Anne Pakoa, head of the Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition, said the migrants barely had enough to eat and that pre-existing medical conditions including diabetes were going untreated.
“There is free medical treatment but it’s very basic, some of the medications required are not available in Vanuatu,” Pakoa said by phone. “Depression is mounting among the group.”
Bangladesh’s High Commission in Australia — it has no representative in Vanuatu — said it was first informed of the situation by the IOM in November but has received no details.
“If IOM can provide details that they must have, Bangladesh can ascertain their citizenship and start the process of repatriation,” a spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The IOM is providing humanitarian support to the 101 migrants at the request of Vanuatu’s government, according to spokesman Chris Lom, who said the situation was “complex.”
But for Rashid and the other Bangladeshis living in limbo in Vanuatu, money rather than food is their most pressing concern.
“How will we pay our loans back?,” Rashid said. What will our families think?”


Malawi becomes 1st nation to immunize kids against malaria

A Health Surveilance Assistant prepares to give a dose of the Malaria Vaccinne into the first recipient on April 23, 2019 at Mitundu Community hospital in Malawi's capital district of Lilongwe on the first day of the Malaria vaccine implementation pilot programme in Malawi aiming to immunise 120,000 children aged two years and under to assess the effectiveness of the pilot vaccine and whether the delivery process is feasible. (AFP)
Updated 15 min 2 sec ago
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Malawi becomes 1st nation to immunize kids against malaria

  • The vaccine, known as Mosquirix, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and was approved by the European Medicines Agency in 2015

LONDON: The World Health Organization says Malawi has become the first country to begin immunizing children against malaria, using the only licensed vaccine to protect against the mosquito-spread disease.
Although the vaccine only protects about one-third of children who are immunized, those who get the shots are likely to have less severe cases of malaria. The parasitic disease kills about 435,000 people every year, the majority of them children under 5 in Africa.
“It’s an imperfect vaccine but it still has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives,” said Alister Craig, dean of biological sciences at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who is not linked to WHO or vaccine. Craig said immunizing the most vulnerable children during peak malaria seasons could spare many thousands from falling ill or even dying.
The vaccine, known as Mosquirix, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and was approved by the European Medicines Agency in 2015. A previous trial showed the vaccine was about 30% effective in children who got four doses, but that protection waned over time. Reported side effects include pain, fever and convulsions.
Pedro Alonso, director of WHO’s malaria program, said similar vaccination programs would begin in the coming weeks in Kenya and Ghana, with the aim of reaching about 360,000 children per year across the three countries.
Alonso called the vaccination rollout a “historical moment,” noting that it was significantly more difficult to design a vaccine against a parasite as opposed to a bacterium or virus.
He acknowledged the vaccine was flawed but said the world could not afford to wait for a better option. “We don’t know how long it will take to develop the next-generation vaccine,” he said. “It may be many, many years away.”
In the meantime, he said, the stalled progress against malaria demanded new tools now. Resistance is growing to medicines that treat the disease, while mosquitoes are becoming more resistant to insecticides. In addition, funding for malaria efforts has plateaued in recent years.
It took GSK and partners more than 30 years to develop the vaccine, at a cost of around $1 billion. GSK is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses in the current vaccination initiatives. A company spokesman said GSK is working with partners to secure funding for potentially broader vaccination programs.
Some experts warned the vaccination programs should not divert limited public health funds from inexpensive and proven tools to curb malaria such as bed nets and insecticides.
“This is a bold thing to do, but it’s not a silver bullet,” said Thomas Churcher, a malaria expert at Imperial College London. “As long as using the vaccine doesn’t interfere with other efforts, like the urgent need for new insecticides, it is a good thing to do.”
Craig said one of health officials’ biggest challenges could be convincing parents to bring their children for repeated doses of a vaccine that only protects about a third of children for a limited amount of time.
More commonly used vaccines, like those for polio and measles, work more than 90 percent of the time.
“This malaria vaccine is going to save many lives, even if it is not as good as we would like,” Craig said. “But I hope this will kick-start other research efforts so that the story doesn’t end here.”