On September 1, 83 returnees, including two from Qatar, were sent to jail on the ground that they had tarnished the image of Bangladesh abroad
Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants (BCSM), a civil society network of 19 organisations working on migration, has expressed deep concern over the arrests of 81 Bangladeshi returnees from Vietnam, and 219 from the Middle East.
"Such arrests on unfounded allegations are a violation of human rights," the organisations said in a joint statement on Thursday.
They demanded immediate and unconditional release of all the incarcerated returnees and called for an end to such arrests and harassments.
"It is surprising that migrants who returned to the country after being exploited were thrown into jail whereas perpetrators either remain scot-free or face little action," the statement said.
On September 1, 83 returnees, including two from Qatar, were sent to jail on the ground that they had tarnished the image of Bangladesh abroad.
Surprisingly, the same allegations were raised earlier when 219 migrants from Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain were jailed.
According to the allegations, while the migrants were at the quarantine centre in the capital's Diabari, they would consult in groups with the intention of getting involved in "anti-government and anti-state activities".
They were arrested under Section 54.
"Even the allegations that they were in Vietnam jail are completely fictitious. They went to the Bangladesh embassy in Vietnam to register complaints against traffickers," the statement said.
The migrants told the embassy a few recruiting agencies had taken Tk4-5 lakh from each of them, alluring them with better employment opportunities.
They were then sent to Vietnam at different times at the end of last year and in the first few months of this year with government clearance.
But they were not assigned proper work there. Rather, they were subjected to torture.
In such a situation, they approached the embassy and lodged a written complaint to save their lives and to return to the country.
According to the Overseas Employment and Migration Act 2013, if a migrant faces problems abroad, he will go to the embassy.
However, due to repeated reports in the media and the steadfast position of these migrants, they were sent back to Bangladesh from Vietnam on August 16.
After returning to Dhaka on a special flight, they were interrogated and then taken to the quarantine centre in Diabari. After 14 days, when they were hoping to meet their families, they were instead sent to jail.
"We demand an impartial investigation into this incident. All persons and organisations concerned, including sub-agents, licenced recruiting agents and others, must be brought under investigation.
We urge the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for taking immediate measures in this regard," added the statement.
Earlier, 219 among 255 returnees from the Middle East were also sent to jail. They have not yet been granted bail.
In this case, there is no evidence that any of them has committed any crime in Bangladesh either. Instead, they returned to the country after being pardoned for their terms of conviction for petty crimes, such as overstaying in destination countries and selling talk time on the phone.
The statement was made by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, WARBE Development Foundation, Brac, Ain o Salish Kendra, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Bangladeshi Ovhibashi Mohila Sramik Association, BASUG, Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme, Human Rights Support Society, and others.