The European Union (EU) has urged Bangladesh to arrange for the repatriation of thousands of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants living in EU member countries.
A six-member delegation from the EU met with senior officials in Dhaka Tuesday and conveyed concerns about the rising number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh says the EU officials told them that among the nearly 250,000 Bangladeshi immigrants in different EU countries, about 80,000 are staying there illegally and more are still arriving.
Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the two sides discussed how to ensure the safe return of migrants.
“We have sought the lists of the Bangladeshi illegal immigrants living in the EU countries. After we get the lists of those 80,000 people, we will verify if they all are Bangladeshis. We will then chalk out a plan to bring home the Bangladeshi illegal immigrants and the EU will cooperate with us in the process,” Kamal said in a news conference.
Another official, Jabed Ahmed, said the Europeans told them the EU is eager to assist in the reintegration of the illegal immigrants so that they do not become desperate enough to seek work abroad again.
EU team leader Christian Leffler, deputy secretary-general for economic and global issues at the European External Action Service, said the two sides discussed all the dimensions of the issue, but provided few details.
“On the issue of the Bangladeshi illegal immigrants we shall continue dialogue with the Bangladesh government at a higher level. We hope both sides will be able to settle the issue amicably,” he said.
Earlier this week, he tweeted about the need for a stronger framework for legal migration and tougher measures against irregular migration.
With a quarter of Bangladesh’s 160 million people living below the poverty line and the country being regularly hit by natural disasters like floods and cyclones, large numbers of Bangladeshis have, for years, migrated abroad in search of work.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Singapore and Malaysia have long been the preferred destination for these migrant laborers. However, for various reasons, most of these countries began cutting down on imported labor from Bangladesh in recent years.
According to a Bangladesh government figure, more than 870,000 Bangladeshis worked abroad in 2008, most of them in Persian Gulf countries. But by 2014, the figure had dropped to 425,000.
With the traditional foreign job markets shrinking, larger numbers have turned to the EU countries.
A Bangladeshi who last year reached Italy with the help of some human traffickers from Libya said Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Greece are the favorite destinations of the illegal Bangladeshi migrant workers.
“I personally know some hundreds of Bangladeshis who, like me, are living in Italy and some other EU countries illegally,” he told VOA via Skype. “We all are concerned about our fate here after EU announced plans to deport illegal immigrants,” said the 32-year-old man, who only wanted to be identified as Suman.
Osman Goni, a travel agent in Chittagong, told VOA that many of the illegal migrants first transit through North Africa.
“A section of those Bangladeshis are they who entered the countries on tourist visas but planned to stay on, overstaying their visas. However, most of those illegal immigrants entered the countries by illegal sea and land routes after they had reached some African and other countries from Bangladesh legally,” said Goni. “In the past one or two years several thousand Bangladeshis legally traveled to Libya, from where they planned to land in Europe through illegal routes.”
Human Rights Watch has said several Bangladeshis were among the three boatloads of migrants who were deported from Greece to Turkey this week.