Bangladesh authorities have launched a crackdown on suspected people-smugglers masquerading as "travel agents" after dozens of Bangladeshis drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, officials said on Thursday, May 16th.
Last week, about 60 people died when a boat full of would-be migrants capsized while trying to cross from Libya to Italy, in a case that has put the spotlight on the desperate struggle of young unemployed Bangladeshis to find work abroad.
Fourteen Bangladeshis were among 16 people rescued by Tunisian fishermen, while Foreign Minister, AK Abdul Momen, said 39 Bangladeshis were unaccounted for.
How it all escalated is witnessed by the families of those who died. They said so-called "travel agents" took money from youths in exchange for a passage to Libya and the promise of a sea crossing to Europe.
As a result, the authorities sealed off 23 travel agencies, in the north-eastern Sylhet district, when they discovered that many were working for international trafficking networks, Momen said.
"We will take stern action against these agents," he told reporters.
The Sylhet government administrator, Kazi Emdadul Islam, said five mobile courts, set up on the back of trucks, ordered jail terms for nine suspected traffickers and another 29 were fined.
Furthermore, Magistrate Nasirullah Khan stated that the crackdown will continue against the "greedy and illegal travel agents" who prey on unemployed young men.
"We want to ensure no mother will ever lose her child again," he said.
In recent year, tens of thousands of young Bangladeshi men have attempted the perilous Mediterranean crossing and the number of traffickers catering to them has mushroomed.
While the Bangladesh economy has grown at an annual rate of 6-7% through the decade, there are still not enough jobs and many young men try to reach Europe and North America on death-defying illegal routes.
The growing unemployment in Bangladesh has ended up fuelling desperation to escape, said Professor Jalal Uddin Sikder, a migration expert at the University of Liberal Arts in Dhaka.
"Low paid jobs are available, but these young men want better paid jobs in the West," he told AFP.
"But many do not survive the long, tiring journey through the desert and across the seas, while some get sold as slaves even before they reach the Libyan coast."