A group of eminent citizens and several migrant rights bodies have demanded immediate and unconditional release of the migrants who were arrested upon their return from Vietnam and the Middle East.
In two separate statements yesterday, 44 eminent citizens and 19 rights bodies called for an independent investigation and punishment to the manpower brokers, recruiting agents and the officials responsible for the fraudulence and exploitation of the migrants.
On September 1, a total of 83, including two from Qatar, were sent to jail on the ground that “they have tarnished the image of Bangladesh abroad”.
Several returnee migrants told The Daily Star that each of them was charged Tk 4-5 lakh by the recruiting agents for jobs in Vietnam. They travelled there between late last year and early this year but were not provided jobs as promised though they had clearances from the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training.
The migrants started showing up at the Bangladesh embassy in Hanoi in early July to seek justice and demand repatriation. Eventually, the Bangladesh embassy arranged their repatriation. After returning home, they were put into quarantine for 14 days and then were shown arrested under Section 54.
Police said the arrestees were “convicted or sentenced to different terms for their involvement in criminal activities abroad.”
The law enforcers said their sentences were commuted and they were sent back to Bangladesh when the coronavirus outbreak surged worldwide.
Police also said after returning to Bangladesh, they allegedly divided into groups while in quarantine and were planning subversive activities against the government.
“If these returnees are released, they can engage in various crimes, including robbery, family violence, killing and militancy,” police said.
Surprisingly, the same allegations were made earlier when 219 migrant workers from Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain were jailed. Both the groups of returnees were arrested under Section 54.
In the statement, the 44 eminent citizens strongly condemned the case and arrest.
“Such acts by the state are disrespect to the international and national laws and are a matter of serious concerns.
“We got to learn that none of the returnee migrants from Vietnam was convicted or sent to jail,” said the statement, adding that they also learned that the Bangladesh embassy in Vietnam did not take timely actions to address the complaints of the migrant workers.
The language of the police report in regard to the arrest of 219 migrants on July 4 also was the same, said the statement and added that a person cannot be punished more than once for a crime.
“It is not understandable for us how the returnees tarnished the country’s image after returning from the jails abroad and by holding meetings during the quarantine,” it said.
At the same time, arresting under Section 54 without arrest warrant contradicts the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The High Court has clear instructions for police, magistrates and tribunals about starting criminal proceedings against a person.
“We think arrests of migrants in two incidents are violations of the important High Court instructions,” the citizens and rights activists said.
They demanded compensating the migrants for the losses caused to them.
The statement was signed among others by Prof Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury, Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury of Gonoshastya Kendra, Prof Anu Muhammad of Jahangirnagar University, jurist Shahdeen Malik, Prof Parveen Hasan of Central Women’s University, Prof Ali Riaz of Illinois State University, Prof Golam Mostafa of Chittagong University, Prof CR Abrar of Dhaka University; Prof Swapan Adnan of London University and photojournalist and writer Shahidul Alam.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants, a civil society network of organisations working on migration, said such arrests on unfounded allegations are violations of human rights.
“We demand an impartial investigation into this incident. All concerned persons and organisations including sub-agents, licensed recruiting agents and others must be brought under investigation,” it said.
It also urged the foreign ministry and the expatriates’ welfare ministry for immediate measures.
The signatories to the statement, among others, include Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, WARBE Development Foundation, BRAC, Ain o Salish Kendra, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Bangladeshi Ovhibashi Mohila Sramik Association, BASUG and OKUP.