IOM Helps 25 Bangladeshis Stranded in Afghanistan to Return Home

Date Published: 
Friday, November 18, 2016

IOM on Thursday (17/11) repatriated 25 Bangladeshi migrant workers who had been stranded in Afghanistan after months of living in jail-like conditions.

The men had initially migrated to Afghanistan’s Herat province with the promise of a steady job in a steel mill and a good salary. The experience quickly turned sour, with the men ending up being virtually trapped inside the steel mill’s premises for months.

The men had left Bangladesh in October 2015, lured by a local recruiting agent. All had a one-month visa in their passports with the promise that it would be regularized upon arrival.

Despite all having jobs in Bangladesh in the steel industry, the men were tempted to go by the promise of much higher salaries by the recruiting agent, who charged them each up to USD 1,200 for the passage.

The men believed they had accessed a regular migration channel to go abroad, but the steel mill closed down within two months of their arrival, leaving them unemployed and without a way out.

According to the men, the mill owner kept promising to restart work very soon, and kept the men locked up within the mill’s premises. The men had no income and food was scarce.

In the end, they managed to alert the outside world to their plight through making a video appeal and uploading it to Facebook. The video was circulated widely enough to catch the eye of a Bangladeshi NGO worker in Afghanistan, who in turn was able to alert IOM.

“Everything was taken from us,” said one of the returnees. “We had to pay high fees to the recruiting agent to get to Afghanistan. This job was going to pay me USD 1,000 a month, now I have nothing and I am in debt. How will I look after my family?” he added.

Given that most of the migrants had their passports confiscated, no valid visas and no source of income to pay for the return flight, it took IOM’s Afghanistan mission months of discussions with the Afghan government and funding sources to ensure the men could return safely.

“This was only possible because of the experienced field staff we have in place both in Afghanistan and Bangladesh,” said Laurence Hart, IOM Chief of Mission in Afghanistan. “We also are grateful for the assistance of the Government of Afghanistan in both assisting the stranded men and ensuring that those responsible for their plight face justice.”

“IOM Bangladesh has a decade of experience in bringing back stranded migrants. Now we must ensure these men have a chance at meaningful reintegration back to their communities,” said Sarat Dash, IOM Chief of Mission in Bangladesh. “The understanding among prospective migrants on what is safe and regular migration is still often missing, and this is an area in which we need to do much more work,” he added.

IOM Afghanistan provided the 25 men with winter clothing, food and plane tickets to Bangladesh. IOM Bangladesh received the men at the airport, ensuring that immigration formalities went smoothly. It is also providing food, accommodation and bus tickets to their homes.

IOM recently launched a three-year, USD 10 million project with USAID to combat human trafficking in Afghanistan through raising public awareness, coordinating protection mechanisms and strengthening the prosecution process. The project represents the largest counter-trafficking grant IOM has ever received.

For more information please contact Peppi Siddiq at IOM Bangladesh, Tel. +880 175 5568894, Email: pksiddiq@oim.int or Nasir Haidarzai at IOM Afghanistan, Tel. +93 794 100 542, Email: nhaidarzai@iom.int