Bangladeshi Migrants Stuck at Sea off Tunisia

Sharif Khiam
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190612_Bangladeshi_migrants_unisia_1000.jpg Mahdi Hasan Fahi, pictured at the international airport in Dhaka, displays a photo of Manjur Alam Himel (wearing brown jacket), his cousin who was among 14 undocumented Bangladeshi migrants who survived a boat disaster in the Mediterranean in early May and had not returned home from Tunisia, May 21, 2019.
Sharif Khiam/BenarNews

Dozens of undocumented Bangladeshi migrants who have been stuck in a boat off Tunisia for at least 13 days are refusing to come ashore in the North African country or abandon their quest of reaching Europe, Bangladesh’s ambassador to Libya said Wednesday.

Sixty-four Bangladeshi nationals are among 75 migrants stranded on an Egyptian boat that rescued them in the Mediterranean Sea but which Tunisian authorities were barring from docking in a local port, Sk. Sekander Ali, Dhaka’s envoy to Tripoli, told BenarNews.

“Besides the Bangladeshi people there are also Moroccans, Sudanese and Egyptians on that boat. All countries are trying to convince Tunisian authorities [to let them in],” the ambassador said by telephone from the Libyan capital. He confirmed details of a news report about the latest saga of people from Bangladesh trying to undertake the dangerous and illicit sea crossing to Europe from North Africa.

“Our Tripoli Embassy has contacted all the officials of the Tunisian government and all related agencies including Red Crescent,” Ali said, referring to the Muslim-based international humanitarian aid and relief organization.

Citing information provided by officials from the local Red Crescent chapter and the Tunisian government, he said the migrants on board the Egyptian boat had grown weak after being stranded at sea for 13 days.

“Yet they refuse food and medical services. They are demanding to enter Europe,” the diplomat said. “They do not want to give up at this stage because they have already paid huge amounts of money to traffickers and have already suffered a lot for their desired trip.”

Bangladesh does not have an embassy in Tunisia and must deal with issues relating to its citizens there through its mission in neighboring Libya.

Reuters news service, which broke the story on Tuesday, reported the boat was 25 km (15.5 miles) off the Tunisian coastal city of Zarzis, but officials of the Medinine governorate were refusing to allow it to dock, saying the area’s migrant centers were too overcrowded.

However, it remained unclear on Wednesday how and under what circumstances the Egyptian boat rescued the 75 migrants at sea.

The stranding of the Bangladeshis at sea marks the second time in the past month that people from the South Asian nation have run into trouble along the maritime route from North Africa to southern Europe, which is rife with activity by human smugglers.

On May 10, about 65 migrants drowned after their overcrowded dinghy lost air pressure and took on water, according to an eyewitness account given to BenarNews by a Bangladeshi man who survived the disaster.

Thirty-nine of the 65 migrants were Bangladeshis who presumably drowned after they went missing, while the body of another Bangladeshi was recovered.

According to UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency, as many as 164 people died during the first four months of 2019 while trying to cross over to Europe via the same route in the Mediterranean.

In Dhaka, a researcher at the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, which is affiliated with the University of Dhaka, said many Bangladeshis attempted the illegal journey to Europe because relatives encourage them to do so.

“In most cases, those who are going to Europe in this way, some of their relatives are already living there. Firstly, those relatives have enticed them. They say that if you can reach [Europe], I will arrange a job,” researcher Jalal Uddin Sikder told BenarNews.


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