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Bangladeshi immigrants seeking to make a fortune by traveling to America

Bangladeshi migrants take huge risks to travel half way across the world in the hope of reaching the USA | Photo: Shafaat Himel/InfoMigrants
Bangladeshi migrants take huge risks to travel half way across the world in the hope of reaching the USA | Photo: Shafaat Himel/InfoMigrants
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In order to travel through many countries and into the United States, Bangladeshi migrants take lengthy and dangerous ways. After spending tens of thousands of euros on their journey, some are left stuck along the road.

With the exception of Australia and Antarctica, their excursions span every continent and take years and enormous amounts of money. Ultimately, while a select few succeed in getting there, the most get lost along the road.

A network of people smugglers is involved in this journey. Numerous locals from the host countries are also alleged to be taking part in this “game,” in addition to residents of several South Asian nations.

The migrants’ plans frequently fail along the way. Recently, the Dutch immigration authorities stopped two Bangladeshis as they were arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. They had been using forged Indonesian passports to go from the Gambia to Brazil.

These are not singular occurrences. At least two further Bangladeshis had their asylum requests turned down and were sent back to the Gambia by Dutch officials a few months earlier. Many immigrants from Bangladesh have gotten in touch with Infomigrants from Ghana in West Africa, where they have been stuck for months while traveling the same path to the USA.

 

Dubai, a stepping stone

The United Arab Emirates, particularly Dubai, serves as a key departure point for migrants from several South Asian countries.

UAE authorities are lenient when it comes to visitor or transit visas, enabling Bangladeshi migrants to obtain UAE visas easily by providing documents such as flight tickets, hotel bookings, and, in the case of students, admission letters.

Bangladeshi migrants stranded in Cyprus, along with their agents, have told InfoMigrants how easy it was to transit through Dubai and Bangladesh airports with the assistance of so-called ‘airport contracts’. In these under-the-table arrangements, immigration and boarding officials at airports enable particular migrants to board flights without much scrutiny in exchange for bribes.

Sharing details about their journey, Liton* and Zaman* appeared visibly frustrated while speaking with InfoMigrants outside an asylum center in Amsterdam.

Liton said that he initially paid around 1,500,000 Bangladeshi Taka (approximately €12,500) to a Bangladeshi agent who then organized everything. “I travelled from Noakhali to Dhaka. There, I hired an agent to arrange my travel to Brazil. Later, I handed him my passport, and after a few days, he told me, ‘You got the visa, you’re going to Dubai’.”

For every person, the process and the route is different, depending on the circumstances. All the decisions are made by the agents. While Liton and Zaman were sent to Gambia, others are directed to different countries.

Zaman said, “I had no idea where I would be sent. The brokers decide what they think is best. I went to Africa, while others come directly from Dubai to Europe for transit.”

It is nearly impossible to enter any European country legally from Dubai without obtaining a visa in advance. To get around this problem, agents use counterfeit passports.

 

E-visa for Africa, fake passport for Europe

Liton spent around three weeks in Dubai before being sent to Gambia with an electronic visa. He stayed in the West African nation for about a year. A Pakistani ‘dalal’, or agent, provided him with a forged Indonesian passport. Indonesian citizens can enter Brazil without a visa, a fact agents exploit.

However, this journey often turns out to be fruitless, as Liton and Zaman discovered. They arrived in the Netherlands on April 19 but were stopped by police. The two men, who had set out with a plan to reach the United States, have now found refuge in a camp in Amsterdam.

This is nothing new for the Dutch immigration authorities which, as of June 16, had not responded to a request from InfoMigrants for precise data on the number of migrants detained with counterfeit passports. But Liton and Zaman said they knew of at least two more Bangladeshis who had also been detained. One of them was sent back to Gambia after his asylum request was rejected. The future of the other remains uncertain.

Under the 1951 Refugee Convention everyone has the right to seek asylum. This applies even to those who enter a country with a fake passport or ID card, or without any documents at all. Signatory countries are obliged to provide them with shelter and the chance to seek asylum until their case has been thoroughly examined.

Liton said immigration officials told them at the airport that they could face up to two months in prison for traveling on fake passports. Later, both he and Zaman were held for around two weeks in a detention centre, where they were repeatedly questioned about their identity and the purpose of their journey.

The men decided to apply for political asylum in the Netherlands and were subsequently transferred to an open asylum facility, where they are now free to come and go from the center.

 

Stranded in Accra

Dozens of Bangladeshi migrants are currently stranded in Accra, the capital of another west African country, Ghana. Some who contacted InfoMigrants via social media said they had been waiting for months to complete their journey to the USA.

Rimon* told InfoMigrants: “I came to Ghana from Dubai with the help of a Bangladeshi brother. He also brought some other people from Bangladesh who are now living with me. He took €12,660-€15,190 from each of us, saying that he would provide us with a visa for Europe or America. He has now fled Ghana to Europe himself without returning any of our money.”

Rimon said that, as far as he knew, at least 55 Bangladeshis are now living in Accra, waiting to travel to the United States.

Another migrant named Shahed* said, “I am currently in Ghana. I have also come here to go to America. My dalal brought me here. I have already spent four to five months here and still can’t do anything further.”

Shahed, like others, came to Dubai first and then to Ghana after obtaining an e-visa within three weeks. He said: “Many Bangladeshis have been brought here by dalals. The dalals have taken €16,900-€21,100 from each person promising to arrange flights (to the Americas). Many of them have been stranded here (in Ghana) for more than a year. Their passports had been taken by the dalals, turning them into hostages. The dalals say, ‘now this way (transit to Europe) is closed’. But they assure, once it opens they will provide tickets.”

Forging passports and arranging flights is a time-consuming process, often resulting in prolonged waiting periods of over a year. During this period, the agents help the migrants to obtain residency permits in the African countries by claiming that they have business interests.

However, in most instances the migrants have to cover their own food and accommodation expenses throughout their stay in Africa. Many have already returned to Bangladesh disappointed. None of them has received a refund.

Shahed told InfoMigrants, “We have to bring money from home to bear the expenses here. We rarely leave the house. I’ve rented an apartment. There are nine of us now. There were about 30 others but they returned home. The dalal did not refund them even a single Taka.”

 

Bangladeshi migrants need a substantial amount of money, typically ranging from 20-40 lakh Taka (€16,900-€33,800) in order to reach the United States. In Bangladesh this is a huge sum, which some manage to collect by mortgaging or selling their inheritance, or borrowing from a different sources.

Many argue that the migrants could have invested these large sums in Bangladesh instead. Others believe that having such substantial funds should enable people to obtain legal visas for various European countries and for the USA.

However, the migrants themselves tell a different story. Many say that they were forced to flee Bangladesh to avoid political persecution. Zaman claims he was targeted for being a member of BNP, one of the main opposition parties in the country.

“The police harassment in unbearable. The ruling party leaders and workers have created a chaotic environment everywhere,” Zaman said. “As a citizen of a democratic country, I have the right to support any political party. Unfortunately, they take it negatively.”

Others see corruption in Bangladesh as an obstacle to the sustainability of new private enterprises.

Set against such challenges, obtaining a visa for Dubai is relatively simple. Even those who have never travelled before can get to the UAE, something which is close to impossible in the case of European countries or the United States.

 

Brasilia has ‘no information’

One of the stopping points for many Bangladeshis is the Latin American nation of Brazil. Stories of people who have successfully settled there have proved to be an enticement for others considering the journey.


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“Brazil allows us easy entry. Living there is also relatively not complicated,” Liton explained. “Many people from my area (in Bangladesh) have undertaken the same journey and are currently residing there.”

But when InfoMigrants approached the Bangladeshi ambassador in Brasilia, she refused to comment. The embassy stated in an email: “[We do] not have any such records or information. Bangladesh strongly adheres and believes in safe, regular and orderly migration.”

Bangladesh far from eliminating trafficking

The US State Department’s 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report ranks Bangladesh in Tier 2, meaning that it is trying hard to tackle people trafficking but is still far from achieving the minimum standard for eliminating the problem.

Bangladesh is the world’s sixth largest migrant-sending country and the eighth largest country receiving remittances, according to an international report published in 2022. However, while the government facilitates the emigration of tens of thousands of skilled and semi-skilled workers at low cost or no cost, 90 percent of migrants still rely on private recruiting agencies, which charge arbitrary fees. The US report says that Bangladeshi workers continue to pay the highest migration fees in the region.

A considerable number of Bangladeshi migrants are low-skilled or unskilled workers, and according to the report, many migrate through informal channels, making them vulnerable to smugglers and traffickers. InfoMigrants has abundant evidence to support the existence of another phenomenon – an increasing reliance by traffickers on social media to lure Bangladeshis and other migrants into embarking on ‘the game’.

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Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury

Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury is the Editor of The Daily Dazzling Dawn. Previously, he has been serving in important positions in all the famous national dailies of the Bangladesh since the nineties. He has played a commendable role in journalism by participating in various events at the national and international levels. United Nations Conference, World Climate Conference, SAARC Summit are notable among them.

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