As we sit in the comfort of our homes reading this, there are tens of thousands of people out there searching for a roof over their heads. These are the nowhere men, women and children —illegal Bangaldeshi immigrants fleeing the hopelessness of their country in search of survival.
These are people struggling with basic needs such as hunger and thirst, but no nation seems to be forthcoming enough to come to their aid. Neighbours such as Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and others have refused help outright. The reason for this act of unkindness speaks of the harsh truth — the poor are not welcome anywhere. They are shunned from every sphere and every privilege, unwanted and uncared for. Wonder what the scenario would have been had there been rich people in the equation. Obviously, they would’nt have been refused at any shore. In fact, they would have been given a warm welcome with everyone vying to have them aboard.
Human traffickers have coined several terms for their activities. When the transaction requires passage by sea, in their vocabulary, it is known as Columbus Visa; when it is through forests and no-man’s lands, it is known as the Tarzan Visa. Even the harshest critics of this trade would find it difficult to ignore the dark humour.
So, how much does it take to earn a passage at the hands of these traffickers? It would take about 10,000 taka — an amount scrounged by the desperate by selling the last of their earthly possessions for a flicker of hope — and a further 25,000 taka for ferry owners to book a place in their vessel. Then beings the journey to find a better life in a distant land full of promise.
It is usually assumed that a person of islamic origin would like to go to an islamic county. But Indonesia has strictly instructed that even if there are people seen drowning at sea, no one should try to bring them ashore. Ah! The irony of it, a muslim country refusing a fellow muslim even while chanting the strain of islamic brotherhood!
It may sound unbelievable at first but muslims are actually better off in countries, where islam does not feature as the primary religion. Places like Europe and Canada welcome them with far more warmth than islamic countries. But the poor, however, do not have the luxury to go that far for a better life. Their meagre capacity allows them to only venture to nearby countries. Thus, they find themselves on a journey of uncertainty on sea that may also serve as their grave as time progresses. It is, indeed, ironical that, when vessels laden with muslims are being turned away by muslim countries, the Philippines, a christian nation, has given its word that they will be offered shelter.
What disheartens further is the fact that people like Aung San Suu Kyi, someone awarded with the Nobel peace prize, chooses to keep silent on the plight of Rohingya muslims in Myanmar. It is really disappointing when such an ardent advocator of peace decides to hold her tongue for the love of power rather than protest against human atrocities.
The Bangladesh government has neither the will, nor the naval power, to stop human traffickers. Teknaf and Maheshkhali are the primary areas where these traffickers are active — there are some 80 routes around these areas from where trafficking takes place under the cover of the night — and it is common knowledge that the police of these regions accept bribes to turn a blind eye.
The saddest part is that so desperate are the people being trafficked that they believe that even on being caught as illegal immigrants, they would have a better life in the prisons of Malaysia than walking free in their own country. With the consolation that they would never have to sleep hungry ever again, they find a better deal in servitude than in freedom.
Many commentators have been urging for strict anti-trafficking laws to prevent such situations. I, however, have reservations on calling this trafficking a violation of human conduct. It has been the prerogative of the human race to move towards a habitat that is less hostile to their survival. This has been one of the primal factors that have made us survive through the passage of time. The theory of evolution or the theory of human race has been a continuous search to find ourselves in a better position than that we have been in. Now, if laws would forbid such activity, I think we are looking at the wrong end of the scenario.
We are not limited by boundaries that predestine our fate. It does not work to debate on humanity while putting shackles on the freedom of fellow humans. Bangladesh needs to work out a policy that allows free movement within their neighbouring countries without resorting to means such as human trafficking. A piece of paper (as in passport/visa) should no longer serve as a prerequisite to human freedom and the system that supports it should be abolished.
There is too little time to be wasted in our lives for hate, disbelief and anger towards each other. Let us instead strive towards love,respect and peaceful coexistence.