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.
“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.