Bangladesh now tops the list of source countries whose nationals have tried to cross into Europe through the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea.
The number of Bangladeshis reaching Europe through the illegal route was 3,332 till July 26 of this year, which is the highest among the 47,425 refugees and migrants reaching Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta, mostly through sea routes in the same period. It means roughly 1 in every 7 of these individuals washing up on Europe's shores if they are lucky is a Bangladeshi.
Many of them have become victims of either trafficking or smuggling into several countries – in Libya, Tunisia, Malta, Bosnia and Herzegovina even amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Untold numbers have perished of course.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, recorded 937 deaths in just the first six months of this year in the Mediterranean sea, many of them Bangladeshis.
Although European authorities have always sounded out the fact that Bangladeshis have figured heavily among these movements off the coast of Africa - as recently as April, UNB reported Bangladesh was 4th on the list for 2021 arrivals via the Mediterranean -it has not always been clear why this is so.
Looking at the list of top 10 source countries, Bangladesh is clearly the odd one out. Rounding out the top 5 are three African nations (Tunisia, Ivory Coast and Egypt) and war-torn Syria. Geographically, Bangladesh is the farthest from the departure point.
There is no war to speak of, and even in terms of economic performance, Bangladesh's record is more robust than the other countries. That should act as a disincentive to not just migration, but particularly such risky-laden, desperate ventures.
And that all points to what must be a huge number of Bangladeshis falling prey to human trafficking networks, that operate precisely on the Meditarranean route. In recent times, arrests of human traffickers in various districts of the country have revealed perilous journeys, sometimes years, that the victims are made to endure to get them to the Libyan coast, before they're cast off.
At least 60,000 Bangladeshis have entered Europe irregularly since 2009, according to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex.
Also, Covid-19-induced worsening poverty situation can be linked with people's desperation to take risky journeys, crossing the Mediterranean Sea and land routes to reach Europe.
Most of those who are crossing into Europe in this way are aged 25-40 and using at least 18 routes.
However, the central Mediterranean route has emerged as the key transit point for Bangladeshis seeking irregular migration to Europe, according to Frontex.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 has increased the risk of trafficking not only for potential migrants who are looking for better opportunities in Europe. Recent trends also suggest that traffickers are using social media platforms to lure potential victims of human trafficking.
The grim scenario came up at the webinar "Human trafficking and irregular migration: Situation analysis, challenges and ways forward."
Brac Migration Programme organised the event Thursday ahead of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons which falls tomorrow.
"It is a disturbing development that Bangladesh nationals sit atop the list of countries from where most people tried to enter Europe through sea route. War-torn and impoverished countries like Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, and Afghanistan are on the list. So, the desperation of Bangladesh nationals cannot be justified along the same line," said Shariful Hasan, head of Brac Migration Programme.
Around 4,510 irregular Bangladeshi nationals entered Italy, Malta, Spain or Greece in 2020 through sea and by land, according to the International Organization for Migration Displacement Tracking Matrix.
At least 17 Bangladeshi migrants drowned in a shipwreck off Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the Tunisian Red Crescent said in July.
On July 8, the Tunisia navy rescued 49 undocumented Bangladeshi migrants from the Mediterranean.
On July 3, at least 43 migrants, including Bangladeshis, went missing while 84 were rescued after a boat heading towards Europe drowned off the coast of Tunisia.
Several migrant boats sank recently while trying to reach Europe as more people are now trying to make the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean to the continent amid warmer summer weather.
Between May 18 and June 24 this year, Tunisian naval authorities rescued over 700 Bangladeshis, shipwrecked in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe from Libya.
They were part of at least 3,332 Bangladeshis who have so far been either rescued or detained on their way to the continent this year.