Nazrul Islam is the Bangladesh Country Director for Relief International (RI), a US based international non-government organization that provides development services in more than 20 countries. He is currently leading RI's efforts to combat human trafficking and to promote safe migration in Bangladesh under the 'Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking in Bangladesh' project, supported by the US Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Interestingly, Mr. Islam developed a public awareness campaign against human trafficking, which included the innovative use of print and electronic media, arts and culture, social media, and private and community radio stations. Sakina Huq from Law Desk talks with him on the following issues.
Law Desk (LD): What are the usual channels for trafficking?
Nazrul Islam (NI): Human Trafficking is a lengthy process. It requires an organised group of people to facilitate the process. This group works in both national and international arenas. The process starts with false information being provided by local agents/traffickers/ brokers, who are based mostly in rural areas of Bangladesh, to trafficked persons. These unregistered agents, who are proliferating throughout Bangladesh, provide false informationto villagers to lead them to believe that they have the possibility of receivinga better income and/or job opportunities. Once they have been taken to a border area, international syndicates take over. The trafficked persons are then handed over to different groups. These groups of traffickers are often assisted by law enforcement agencies and politically influential groups in exchange for bribes.
Human trafficking is a form of illegal migration. Countries involved in this process can be categorised into two types, sending and destination countries. Bangladesh is categorised as a sending country. Current receiving countries for Bangladeshi trafficked persons are mainly within Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia. Previous receiving countries were mainly Middle Eastern states.
In recent years, Malaysia has become a more and more attractive destination for traffickers. The political crisis in Myanmar forced many Rohingyas (a Muslim minority group in Myanmar) to flee their country to a number of Southeast Asian nations illegally by sea. The route that passes through the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean has been popular with illegal migrants since the mid 90's.
LD: Who approaches and manipulates these victims in the first stage?
NI : Currently, we are working in 20 districts to support victims of human trafficking; we talked to many victims in these districts and found that most of the time they are falsely informed by their close relatives, for example their uncles, cousins, and even respected elders. In many cases, politically influential persons are also engaged in human trafficking.
LD: What are the main drivers of human trafficking?
NI: Trafficking is a billion dollar industry and persons are trafficked for many different reasons. Initially in Bangladesh, children were trafficked to become camel jockeys. Then this was replaced bychildren and women being trafficked for organs and prostitution. Currently, woman and child trafficking have decreased and labour trafficking has taken the lead.
There are two factors behind illegal migration. One is the 'push factor', where trafficked persons are themselves looking for better opportunities, a way out of dire poverty and hope for a better life. For example, women who have little power at home, who are exploited or discriminated against often look for opportunities for a brighter future. The second is the 'pull factor', which exists when a country's law and/or enforcement are weak and traffickers capitalise on the opportunity, for example Malaysia and Thailand, who is now working to improve their 'pull factor'.
LD: What happens to victims once they are rescued?
NI: Bangladesh recently enacted an anti-trafficking lawthe Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act of2012 that requires the Bangladesh government to provide support to victims of human trafficking. The implementation procedures of the Act is still in process, however once enacted it will ensure that 'protective homes' or shelters will be provided by the government for victims of human trafficking.
At present, the government is only assisting in the rescue of victims through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs. There are, however, a small number of national and international NGOs working on the rehabilitation of trafficked victims. These NGOs are well-trained and have the infrastructure and human resource required to work closely with victims. They provide various kinds of supports such as shelter, psychological and physical health, legal, and advocacy for rehabilitation processes. One such NGO is Relief International (RI), who helps victims establish small businesses. Since January 2015 RI has supported more than 700 victims of trafficking through their current anti-trafficking project. RI will continue to support victims of trafficking and I encourage others NGOs to extend support to survivors of human trafficking.
LD: Do you think Bangladesh should have special agreements with destination countries regarding safe migration and/or proper rescue of victims?
NI: You have raised a very interesting issue. A few years ago government representatives from some South Asian'sending countries'attempted to create a forum to enable engagement with 'destination country' governments with the goal of collectively negotiating a systematic process for rescuing victims of human trafficking. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, this has not yet materialised despite the fact that such a forum is greatly needed and would go a long way to protect the rights of migrant workers. Bangladesh should negotiate with destination countries, with the help of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Embassies, to achieve safe migration and the protection of human trafficking victims.
LD: How is Relief International (RI) helping Bangladesh deal with its human trafficking issues?
NI: RI has close partnerships with 20 Bangladeshi NGOs engaged in the prevention of human trafficking and protection of victims of trafficking. Under our current project, funded by the US State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP), we are providing protection services mainly to male victims of trafficking in 19 districts, providing them with legal and medical support, temporary shelter, and livelihoods training through our NGO network. The project also raises awareness on the newly enacted Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act of 2012 through print, electronic, and social media, and private and community based radio stations.
Our anti-trafficking project also galvanises students, educators, media professionals, and community members to fight human trafficking. We utilise the power of print, electronic and social media to disseminate information on human trafficking and safe migration. Most recently, we organised an anti-trafficking poster exhibition at the Institute of Fine Arts in University of Dhaka. We are collaborating with Radio Today to broadcast public service announcement and radio shows. To create public awareness we use new and popular media that attracts theyounger generation.
Over the next three years we look forward to working with government institutions such as the Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET), the Technical Training Center (TTC), and the District Employment and Manpower Office (DEMO) to train aspiring migrant workers on human trafficking and safe migration. We will also be working with the Union Digital Center in rural areas to create a safe migration information hub, targeting the rural population.
LD: What have been some of the positive developments in human trafficking in Bangladesh?
NI: The introduction of the Act of 2012 is a great achievement for Bangladesh as it previously had insufficient legislation surrounding human trafficking. If it is implemented properly the entire human trafficking situation can be improved.
I also feel that the NGOs, civil society and media are playing an active role these days, bringing public attention to the problems surrounding human trafficking and unsafe migration.
LD: Thank you so much.