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?”


Scotland will prepare for a second independence vote regardless of UK: FM Nicola Sturgeon

Updated 21 min 19 sec ago
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Scotland will prepare for a second independence vote regardless of UK: FM Nicola Sturgeon

  • Scotland will start preparing for independence referendum before May 2021 without permission from Westminster
  • London's approval, however, would eventually be necessary

EDINBURGH: Scotland will start preparing for an independence referendum before May 2021 without permission from London, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Wednesday.
Scotland, part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years, rejected independence by 10 percentage points in a 2014 referendum. But differences over Brexit have strained relations with England and the British government in London.
"A choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament," Sturgeon told Scotland's devolved parliament.
She said a devolved parliament bill would be drawn up before the end of 2019, and that Scotland did not need permission at this stage from London.
London's approval, however, would eventually be necessary "to put beyond doubt or challenge our ability to apply the bill to an independence referendum," she said.
The United Kingdom voted 52-48 to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, but while Wales and England vote to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.
In the campaign for the 2014 independence referendum, unionists said that the only way for Scotland to stay in the EU was to remain within the United Kingdom. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which controls the devolved parliament in Edinburgh, says that a second referendum is justified as Scotland is now being dragged out of the bloc against its will.
With most Scots unhappy at Brexit, Sturgeon is under pressure from independence supporters to offer a clear way forward in the quest to break from the United Kingdom.
Britain is mired in political chaos and it is still unclear whether, when or even if it will leave the European Union.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and Britain's leading polling expert, said Sturgeon was keeping her own troops happy while leaving her options open.
She probably has until October or November of 2020 to hold a new vote once Brexit happens, he said.
Since Scots rejected independence 55-45 percent in 2014, polls show that support has changed little. Grassroots supporters will launch a new campaign this week before the SNP spring conference this weekend.
"I think she was implicitly acknowledging that while it might be impossible (to get permission) out of the current (UK) parliament, it might be a lot easier if we get a general election between now and the end of the year, and the SNP may well find itself in the kingmaker role," Curtice told Reuters.
Her address took a noticeably conciliatory tone.
"The question that confronts us now is this: if the status quo is not fit for purpose - and I know even some of the most committed believers in the union find it hard to argue that it is - how do we fix it?" she said.
Those who want to maintain the United Kingdom argue that Brexit has made no difference to how Scots feel, and the secession vote should not be repeated.
"Nicola Sturgeon continues to press for divisive constitutional change when it is clear that most people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum," said David Mundell, Britain's Scotland minister.
Sturgeon argued that leaving the world's largest trading bloc endangers Britain and Scotland's economic well-being.
"We face being forced to the margins, sidelined within a UK that is itself increasingly sidelined on the international stage. Independence by contrast would allow us to protect our place in Europe."