Bangladesh Migrants Die when Boat Capsizes in Mediterranean

Jesmin Papri
Bangladesh Migrants Die when Boat Capsizes in Mediterranean A Libyan Naval ship carries migrants who were rescued from four boats in the Mediterranean Sea to shore in Tripoli, July 21, 2021.
International Organization for Migration via AP

At least 17 Bangladeshi migrants died while dozens of others were rescued after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea en route from Libya to Italy, officials said Thursday.

The deaths in the shipwreck off the coast of Tunisia were confirmed by Bangladesh’s Embassy in Libya as well as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The boat capsized on Wednesday along a sea corridor that tens of thousands of migrants use every year as they try to enter Europe illegally via North Africa at their own peril, according to the United Nations.

“Another tragedy @ #Mediterranean Sea. At least 17 migrants drowned in a shipwreck off #Tunisia as they tried to cross to #Italy from #Libya. More than 160 have been saved by the coast guard. Tunisia Red Crescent provided them with food & medical support,” IFRC said in a message posted on Twitter.

Gazi Md. Asaduzzaman Kabir, the chargé d’affaires of Bangladesh’s embassy in Tripoli, said the survivors were in Tunisia, which is under a stringent COVID-19 lockdown.

“I have been told that 62 of those rescued are Bangladeshi, though their identities have yet to be confirmed,” Kabir told BenarNews. “Tunisia’s border with Libya has been sealed. Under the circumstances, there is no way for us to travel to Tunisia to meet the survivors and assess their situation.”

Bangladesh has no embassy in Tunis.

“However, we are in touch with the Red Crescent and relevant Tunisian authorities. The rescued Bangladeshis will be quarantined for the present and then moved to IOM (International Organization for Migration) shelter houses, from where they will gradually be transported back to Bangladesh.”

This also means that the dead will be buried in Tunisia since Bangladeshi officials cannot take possession of the bodies, Kabir said.

Kabir said migrants often try to reach Europe in general and Italy in particular with the help of middlemen by crossing the Mediterranean from Libya and Tunisia, despite being aware of the dangers of the journey.

Mongi Slim, head of the Tunisian Red Crescent, said survivors claim that those who died were kept in the ship’s hold because they had paid the middlemen less money than demanded. They were suffocated by smoke when the ship’s engine caught fire, the Associated Press reported.

Initially the boat was transporting around 400 migrants, 200 of whom were picked up by units of the Libyan navy, AP quoted Slim as saying.

Also on Wednesday, Libya’s navy intercepted four boats carrying migrants trying to travel to Europe and carried them to Tripoli, AP reported. It did not say if any of those rescued were Bangladeshis.

The coronavirus pandemic, meanwhile, has spurred a revival of illegal migration from Bangladesh, according to Justice and Care, an international anti-human trafficking NGO.

An employment crisis at home created as a ripple effect of the health crisis has brought this about, said Mohammad Tariqul Islam, the group’s Bangladesh director.

Islam said what appeared to be the improved COVID-19 situation in Europe had encouraged traffickers to resume operations across the Mediterranean Sea after those operations had been hampered by pandemics in Italy and Europe.

“Those willing to migrate are first sent to a transit country such as Dubai and then transported to Libya, from where they cross the Mediterranean,” he told BenarNews. “Not all attempts fail. Many migrants do reach Europe, which makes them role models for others back home.

“The language of temptation is proving stronger than the warnings.”

Previous shipwrecks

In recent months, several shipwrecks have been reported off Tunisia.

Kabir, the Bangladeshi diplomat in Tripoli, estimated that in May and June alone, more than 700 Bangladeshis were rescued from the Mediterranean and housed in shelters in Tunisia.  

On June 24, the Tunisian Coast Guard rescued 267 people including as many as 264 Bangladeshis. Previous incidents involved the rescue of 164 Bangladeshis on June 10, 36 on May 18, and 243 on May 27 and 28.

Data from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, show that about 20,000 migrants reached Italy by crossing the Mediterranean from Jan. 1 through June 21 this year, including more than 2,500 from Bangladesh. IOM data show that more than 800 have died in the Mediterranean this year while attempting to cross into Europe. 

“It is hard to estimate exactly how many rescued Bangladeshis are currently stationed in Libya, since all of them have been kept in detention centers and it is impossible to visit them without permission from the country’s home ministry and detention center authorities,” Kabir said, referring to all incidents.


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