UN agencies, donor organizations, NGOs, government stakeholders and rights activists on Thursday called for taking concerted efforts to ensure protection for the rights of the country’s migrant workers at home and abroad amid the corona virus pandemic.
Speaking at a virtual consultation, they emphasized on effective implementation of the counter-trafficking instruments to curb incidents of human trafficking and also gradually improve the criminal justice response to the trafficking victims in Bangladesh.
They made their remarks while speaking at the national consultation on criminal justice responses to Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants in times of COVID-19 and beyond held in Dhaka on Thursday.
International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) jointly organized the consultation.
In light of the impact of COVID-19 on TIP and SOM and the urgent need for a coordinated holistic crime prevention response, jointly organizedan online national consultation on criminal justice responses to TIP and SOM in times of COVID-19 and beyond,in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs.
The event was organized under the framework of the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants - Bangladesh (GLO.ACT-Bangladesh), a four-year (2018-2022) joint initiative by the European Union and UNODC implemented in partnership with IOM.
TIP and SOM are global phenomena which are also a growing concern for Bangladesh. Vulnerable people become targets of human traffickers for different purposes, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, transactional marriages, child labour, including trafficking in street children, and organ removal. In some cases, migrant workers become victims of trafficking due to abuse and exploitation and to unethical recruitment practices by private recruiters and employers. Victims are smuggled to further away destinations such as India, Pakistan and Middle Eastern countries, resulting in the most corrosive forms of human rights violations.
Nasima Begum, NDC, Chairman, National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, said: “Local traffickers and human smugglers often lure people by false promises of lucrative jobs across the world; we hope they will be identified and brought under the purview of justice. Human rights must be at the centre of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inclusive measures aimed at protecting the rights and health of the whole population, including all migrants and trafficked persons, regardless of their migration status, are urgent and necessary.”
Acknowledging the importance of the topic, Masud Bin Momen, Foreign Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that “Safe and regular migration as well as the dignified return of migrants is the priority of the Government of Bangladesh. The focus lies therefore on prevention, victim identification, and protection, as well as on investigation, prosecution and adjudication of human traffickers and migrant smugglers. In the wake of the recent killing of 26 Bangladeshi nationals in Libya by the migrant smugglers, the Government is considering updating the existing migration-related legislation to bring the illegal migration seekers as well as their families also under some kind of accountability mechanism.”
Golam Sarwar, Secretary, Law and Justice Division, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, reiterated that “Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs is always ready to take part in any actions, measures to combat human trafficking and migrant smuggling. To ensure access to justice during the lockdown situation caused by COVID-19 pandemic, Government has taken the initiative to introduce virtual hearings in courts. These efforts resulted in the enactment of an Ordinance which enables the courts and tribunals to hear cases through video conferencing.Hence, the right to access to justice for the victims of human trafficking has evidently been ensured in Bangladesh during COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2020, seven separate Anti-Human Trafficking Offence tribunals were established in seven Divisional Headquarters he said.
Highlighting the various initiatives undertaken by Bangladesh, Abu Bakr Siddique, Additional Secretary, Public Security Division, Ministry of Home Affairs, said: “The Government of Bangladesh, through the Ministry of Home Affairs, has been spearheading the fight against human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants by coordinating the activities of the concerned Ministries, departments and agencies, with a particular emphasis on the special needs of women and children.”
Mia Seppo, United Nations Resident Coordinator, United Nations in Bangladesh, commended the wide range of stakeholders present and noted that “To ensure theincreased protection and respect for thefundamental human rights of current and aspiring migrants in Bangladesh and abroad, it is crucial to adopt a whole-of-society approach. UN agencies in Bangladesh and globally have vowed to work together with partners, delivering as one, to protect society’s most vulnerable, boost development and strengthen security.”
Referring to recent tragic incidents in Libya and Tunisia, Giorgi Gigauri, Chief of Mission, IOM Bangladesh, noted that: “The vulnerabilities of migrants increase in outbreaks of disease, while the ability to provide assistance is more difficult. These dynamics have been wellestablished with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Victims of trafficking and those already in exploitative situations face risks of disruptions of their assistance due to COVID-19; while other migrants face increased vulnerability to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. It is more important than ever that we provide assistance and support to these groups.”
Noting the important role of Bangladesh in the global area on countering TIP and SOM, Sergey Kapinos, Regional Representative, UNODC Regional Office for South Asia, said: “The decision by the Government of Bangladesh to accede to the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol in September 2019 is a very welcome move and reiterates the Government’s commitment to prevent and counter trafficking in persons. This decision is reflective of not only the Government’s commitment to end this crime, but to promote and protect the freedom and dignity of its citizens. UNODC would also encourage the Government of Bangladesh to ratify the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants. UNODC stands ready to support the Government’s efforts in addressing the issue of trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants through a comprehensive and victim-centred approach”.
Researchers, academics, counter trafficking campaigners and migrant rights activists also take part in the discussions.