Human traffickers kill 26 Bangladeshis in Libya

Migrants resting on the floor of a detention center, amidst concerns over the spread of COVID-19 in the city of Zawiya, Libya. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 May 2020

Human traffickers kill 26 Bangladeshis in Libya

  • Migrants were trying to reach Europe
  • Injured receiving medical help from migration body

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities are struggling to recover the bodies of 26 nationals after they were killed in a gunfight by human traffickers in Libya on Thursday.
A group of 42 migrants, including 38 Bangladeshis, was held captive by traffickers in Mizdah, around 180 kilometers from the capital Tripoli, the Bangladesh Embassy in Libya said, quoting one of the survivors.
The survivor said that they had paid between $8,000 and $10,000 to the traffickers to reach Europe through Libya, but that suddenly more money was demanded. As the hostages attacked and killed the leader of the Libyan traffickers, his associates started to shoot at them, killing 26 Bangladeshis and injuring another 12. The remaining four hostages were reportedly from Africa and also died during the gunfight.
“The injured people have bullet wounds and one of them is in critical condition, currently in a hospital in Tripoli with a severe brain injury,” A.S.M. Ashraful Islam, labor counselor at the Bangladesh Embassy to Libya, told Arab News on Friday. “The others are out of danger.”
The embassy said the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had helped by providing expert doctors and medical equipment for the injured, but that there were problems with recovering the dead.

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According to the UNHCR, more than 2 million illegal migrants from different Asian and African countries have entered Europe through the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.

“We have some difficulty in receiving the dead bodies of the Bangladeshi nationals from the town of Mizdah as the UN-recognized Libyan government of National Accord (GNA) doesn’t have enough control in that area,” Islam said. “Preservation of dead bodies for a long period is also tough as there is a huge scarcity of refrigerators and electricity supply in the war-torn country. Once the flight operations are restored we will repatriate the survivors and dead bodies.”
He said the embassy had filed a court appeal for the dead not to be buried in Libya.
“There are some active human trafficking groups in Bangladesh,” Foreign Minister Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen said in a video message on Friday afternoon. “We arrested many of them last year and expected the human traffickers’ gang would stop their activities.”
But a joint international effort was required to stop trafficking, according to Shariful Hasan from the Bangladesh-based international development agency BRAC.
“No one can handle this problem alone,” he told Arab News.  “Since it’s a racket involving traffickers from many countries, the Bangladeshi government should initiate a joint effort with some other countries where the traffickers are operating.”
Several thousand Bangladeshi migrants live in Libya, according to embassy data. The country has long been a major staging post for migrants trying to reach Europe.
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, more than 2 million illegal migrants from different Asian and African countries have entered Europe through the Mediterranean Sea since 2014. Bangladesh is one of the top 10 countries where people risk their lives to cross the sea on small boats.
In the first four months of this year 693 Bangladeshis were arrested by border and coast guard authorities while trying to enter Europe illegally.


India’s crazy-rich temples get wealthier by the day

India hosts some of the world’s wealthiest temples including the Shiva Temple (pictured), with some earning donations worth more than some businesses. (Files/Reuters)
Updated 10 August 2020

India’s crazy-rich temples get wealthier by the day

  • With assets worth billions of dollars, historians say donations offer validation to many

NEW DELHI: Vinod Tawde donates a kilogram of gold each time he visits the Tirupati Temple, located in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, every year.

“This has been a tradition in my family to visit the Tirupati Temple at least once every year. Sometimes I visit twice also if I get a good business deal. The offerings to the temple is a way of thanking God for blessing me,” the Mumbai-based builder told Arab News.

He is not alone. Under normal circumstances, the nearly 300-year-old Tirupati Temple would be frequented by 100,000 people every day, earning $120 million in gifts and donations annually, while its total worth is estimated to be $11 billion.
However, since a nationwide lockdown was imposed in March, it has impacted the footfall to all places of worship across the country.
India is home to some of the world’s wealthiest temples, with some earning more in donations every year than a successful business enterprise.
According to a 2015 assessment by the World Gold Council, India’s temples hold about 2,000 tons of gold, worth about $100 billion, while the country’s central bank placed the value at 557.7 tons of gold based on its 2013 estimate.
One among these is the Shirdi Temple, located in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Less than 100 years old, it is very popular among devotees and holds wealth worth $100 million.
Next in line is the 200-year-old Siddhivinayak Temple in India’s financial capital of Mumbai, which is said to have assets worth $20 million.
However, none of these are a patch on the 1,000-year-old Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala, which historians believe is worth $20 billion, making it India’s and one of the world’s richest temples.
“No other temple in the world has claimed to have so many antiques as the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple claims to have. Only one vault of the temple has been opened; imagine its wealth when the other vaults are opened,” Lekshmy Rajeev, a Kerala-based poet and temple historian, told Arab News.
The temple came to national and international consciousness in 2011 when one of its vaults was opened, yielding sacks of gold coins, diamonds and antique jewelry.
 The other vault has not been opened yet; the royal family believes doing so would bring bad luck. With the kind of wealth the temple has, one can build 10 Burj Khalifas, the world’s tallest building (2,717 feet), worth $1.5 billion.
The temple came under the spotlight recently over ownership claims, with its former royals taking the matter to court.
It follows a 2011 decision by the Kerala high court to give the state ownership of the ancient religious place following the death of its head, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the last ruling Maharaja of Travancore in 1991.
On July 13 this year, the apex court reinstated ownership of the temple to its former royal, overruling the 2011 ruling of the Kerala high court.
“We allow the appeal of the royal family of Travancore. Death does not affect Shebaitship (management and maintenance of the deity) of the Travancore Family,” the two-member bench said in the order.
It ruled that a new committee set up by the Travancore royal family would run the temple and decide what to do with its wealth, including the contents of an unopened vault.
“A large number of devotees had prayed for us. The judgment is their victory,” a member of the former royal family, Gauri Lakshmi Bai, told reporters after the verdict in Thiruvananthapuram at the time.
The apex court verdict has ignited the old debate about who should manage the temple and whether the wealth of religious places can be used for the public good.
Experts, however, are divided on the matter. “The Supreme Court did not leave the administration of the temple to the former royal family, as many thought and quickly interpreted. There are checks and balances in place, and at the same time the court wants to recover the missing money from the vault from the royal family,” Rajeev said.
She added that using a temple’s wealth “strictly for the welfare of the people would be the ideal thing.”
However, Manu S. Pillai, author of the award-winning book, “The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore,” said such a proposal would be “alarming.”
“The value of the temple’s treasure is not monetary alone but also historical. What is reasonable, on the other hand, is placing some of it in a museum run by the temple authorities,” Pillai, who has written extensively on the royal family of Travancore, which has been managing the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, told Arab News.
Most of the wealth acquired by the temples are from donations by individual devotees. Experts say this is due to a desire “to wash their sins,” which prompts a majority to indulge in such extravagant donations.
“It’s a paradox that India is a land of many homeless and hungry people and gods are rich,” Rajeev said.
“Each temple in India represents a myth or ritual, or some miracle — and people believe them blindly. People donate money as a votive; business tycoons donate a minuscule amount from the black money they amass thinking that it would wash away their sins,” she added.
Pillai agrees and adds that donating to temples also offers “social and cultural validation” to many.
“Temples could be used to legitimize political changes, to create patronage networks, to control economic channels. While an ordinary devotee may pay small amounts willingly out of love for the deity and a desire to contribute to the institution’s upkeep, there are public figures for whom large donations bring social prestige. So it is a mix of several things,” he said.