When thousands of Bangladeshis are crowding the Tunisian and Egyptian borders to escape the Libyan conflict, and international agencies are struggling for evacuation, the Bangladesh government is still “assessing its capacity” to bring the Bangladeshis home.
Ever since the violent conflict began in mid-February in the North African country to oust its leader Muammar Gaddafi, the government has been saying it will evacuate the Bangladeshi nationals when it is “necessary”.
Although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday said a Bangladesh Navy ship from Lebanon will head for Libya to join the rescue effort, no ship actually took the course.
Asked when the ship will start for Libya, an official of the expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry yesterday said they are still discussing the matter with the shipping ministry.
“It’s not sure yet. Besides, the ship has a capacity to carry only 50 people,” he told The Daily Star preferring anonymity.
As of yesterday, 1,632 Bangladeshis returned home from Libya, jointly facilitated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the government, said officials at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
On return, workers gave horrifying accounts of their sufferings on the borders.
“It’s not thousands, but lakhs of foreigners are crowding on the Egyptian border of Libya,” said Manik Sarker of Tangail, who returned on Wednesday.
He added that they had to wait for 15 to 20 hours in the line to cross the border after travelling several hundred miles with hungry stomach.
There were reports of deaths in stampede, he said.
“Please bring our brothers from the border,” said another returnee Mohsin of Gazipur.
The IOM said more than 75,000 people have crossed the Tunisian border since February 19, while an estimated 40,000 more are waiting to enter the country.
An IOM spokesperson said the organisation registered over 400 Bangladeshis inside Tunisia, while an estimated 2,600 more are stranded on the Libyan side.
On the Egyptian side, 3,500 Bangladeshis were registered, while the number of Bangladeshis trapped on the Libyan side is unknown, the spokesperson added.
Panicked by the deadly conflicts, many Bangladeshis are rushing towards the borders, but there is no food or shelter there, said Shakil from the Libyan capital Tripoli, where he works in a South Korean company.
The United Nations refugee agency is increasing the number of camps on Tunisian border, but they are still inadequate for the flooding number of workers.
The IOM is repatriating thousands of workers of various nationalities with whatever capacity it has. In this case, quick repatriation of the workers from the bordering areas is crucial, but that requires government contribution, said the IOM spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the UN and the IOM refugee agencies are urgently appealing to the governments for a humanitarian evacuation of tens of thousands of foreign nationals who have fled into Tunisia from Libya.
The two organisations are requesting the governments to urgently supply massive financial and logistical support including planes, boats and expert personnel to the programme.
Meanwhile, the International Migration Alliance (IMA) Research Foundation, a migrants’ rights body, in a statement yesterday demanded immediate government action to rehabilitate the returnees from Libya, as many of them are totally penniless and indebted.
Courtesy of The Daily Star