Tunisia Forces Bangladeshi Migrants to Return Home
New York (IDN) – A shipload of desperate Bangladeshi migrants was told to turn the boat around and go home by Tunisian officials or be deprived of food, water and medicines. The migrants, trapped on a merchant ship off Tunisia for three weeks, were sent back to their home country against their will, according to relatives.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental organization linked to the United Nations, said the Bangladeshis “wished to return home”.
But relatives and aid groups disputed that account. One relative told the Guardian: “When all the people were on the boat, they were told by the Bangladeshi embassy that if they didn’t agree to sign, they wouldn’t get food or water any more. The people were afraid to die on the boat. The Bangladeshi embassy forced them to sign.”
The official account was also disputed by the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights. “We doubt the decisions to return were made voluntarily by the migrants,” they said. “We tried to visit the migrants in the reception center but despite repeated inquiries and requests, their whereabouts were not revealed.”
Another relative said: “I spoke with my brother this morning in the centre. He is scared to be returned to Bangladesh, like all the people there. Nobody wants to return to Bangladesh; everyone who returns is forced.”
The IOM’s head of mission in Tunisia, Lorena Lando, rejected the accusations. “None of the migrants has been deported; [they] wished to return,” she said. “IOM does not do deportation, nor force anyone to return.”
This year, European Union governments significantly downscaled “operation ‘sophia”, an anti-smuggling effort in the Mediterranean. Rescue ships were withdrawn and the mission continued only with air surveillance, Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s researcher director said:
“Having already used every excuse in the book to banish NGO rescue boats from the Mediterranean, and having already stopped carrying out rescues several months ago, EU governments are now removing their own ships, leaving no-one to save the lives of women, men and children in peril.
“This shameful decision has nothing to do with the needs of people who risk their lives at sea, but everything to do with the inability of European governments to agree on a way to share responsibility for them,” he said bitterly. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 June 2019]
Photo: The Bangladeshi migrants were part of a 75-strong group stuck onboard a tugboat for weeks before being taken to Tunisia. Photograph: Courtesy of Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux. Source: The Guardian.