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Beyond border and behind bars: Why Bangladesh should provide consular services to prisoners abroad

Beyond border and behind bars: Why Bangladesh should provide consular services to prisoners abroad

Illustration: BFirst/ Mamunur Rashid

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Bangladesh should provide consular services to these citizens to ensure they receive justice, as many migrant workers languish in foreign prisons without trial, say migration experts

Ariful Islam Mithu

Publisted at 11:47 AM, Tue Jul 9th, 2024

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There are 11,450 Bangladeshis currently detained in foreign prisons worldwide, Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud informed the parliament recently. 

“Bangladeshi citizens are detained in 31 countries, with the highest number, 5,746, imprisoned in Saudi Arabia,” he said during a question-answer session responding to a query at the parliament on Monday (1 July).

The second-highest number of Bangladeshi detainees abroad - 1,579, are in India. 

Additionally, there are 508 in Turkey, 420 in Oman, 415 in Qatar, 414 in Greece, 404 in the United Arab Emirates, 385 in South Africa, and 358 imprisoned in Myanmar.

Experts on migrant workers categorise detainees into three groups: Those imprisoned for migration-related issues like expired passports and visas or illegal entry; those involved in criminal activities such as murder and drug-related crimes; and those who unknowingly break the laws of the destination country.

They emphasised that Bangladesh should provide consular services to these citizens to ensure they receive justice, as many migrant workers languish in foreign prisons without trial.

Shariful Islam Hasan, associate director of the Migration Programme and Youth Platform at BRAC, said many Bangladeshis in Gulf states and Malaysia overstay and become undocumented because they are unable to earn back the money spent to reach these countries.

“To recoup their expenses, they stay longer and become undocumented,” he added.

He added that many prisoners either overstayed and became undocumented entered the country illegally, or failed to work for their designated employer.

Shariful Islam Hasan also noted that some detainees are involved in criminal activities in the destination countries, such as murder and drug-related crimes, which tarnish Bangladesh's image globally and affect the overall labour market.

He highlighted another group who unknowingly broke the laws of the destination country, adding Bangladesh should train migrant workers about local laws and regulations before sending them abroad.

“Our embassies in those countries can brief migrant workers about the rules and regulations,” the expert said.

He stressed that many people are languishing in foreign prisons without valid reasons, and the Bangladesh government should provide them with legal support.

Chowdhury Rafiqul Abrar, executive director of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) said Bangladesh should ascertain the charges against its citizens and whether they have been formally charged.

“We must ensure they receive consular services, even if they have committed a crime, to guarantee justice. Bangladeshi embassies should actively monitor the justice process,” he said.

He said that labour attachés in these countries should investigate the reasons behind the detentions, whether due to personal fault or systemic issues like employers confiscating passports and withholding salaries.

“Many times, our migrant workers face physical, mental, and sexual abuse by employers, forcing them into irregular situations,” said Chowdhury Rafiqul Abrar.

Bangladesh should promptly initiate legal support for its citizens imprisoned abroad to ensure they receive justice, he further said.

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