350 Bangladeshis stranded on Balkan route

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Over 350 Bangladesh citizens are stranded in some Balkan countries for several weeks as they were trafficked for sending to western European countries, including Italy.

A good number of victims are staying in forests, scores in abandoned camps and dozens have already been taken to detention centres in different places.

Dozens try every day to get into Croatia from Bosnia illegally climbing a wooded mountain and using GPS coordinates sent by those who succeeded, according to Agence France-Presse.

But the police were waiting and most were pushed back into Bosnia.

In a forest close to the small town of Velika Kladusa of Bosnia, just three kilometres from the border with Croatia, Mahbubur Rahman, 23, was preparing for his fourth crossing attempt.

Claiming himself a Bangladesh national, he said he left home in February 2019 to reach Italy before this winter.

He had been living in a makeshift camp for a month with 300 other Bangladeshis, mostly young men, sleeping under plastic tarpaulin that no longer protected him from the cold at night.

‘It’s really cold now, it’s raining. We don’t have food, water, and people are falling ill,’ he told AFP.

In daytime, some wash in a nearby stream. Others bring back water to make a meagre meal out of rice or pasta.

Mahbubur Rahman said that the constant pushbacks by Croatian police were ‘torture’. ‘They take everything, our jackets, bags, food, shoes, money,’ he added.

The migrants, often from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and African countries including Morocco, also accuse Croatian police of beating them up. In Zagreb, that’s strenuously denied.

There were also frequent fights between migrants of different nationalities.

Two Pakistanis were killed and around 20 were injured in a brawl with a group thought to be from Afghanistan, police said.

Bangladeshis were not involved in the clash.

The International Organisation for Migration estimated that around 2,500 migrants were homeless in Bosnia, a figure it believes will shoot up as authorities close some shelters.

‘We’re fast heading towards a humanitarian crisis,’ warns Peter Van der Auweraert, the IOM’s Bosnia representative.

About 7,400 registered migrants were staying at a wooden hut built by the Red Cross with the help of villagers of Ribnik and Kljuc in north-western Bosnia and Herzegovina, according Balkan Insight, a newspaper. 

From the camp, it is roughly 40 kilometres to the border with EU member Croatia.

‘I need five hours of walking to get to the border,’ said Mohammed, claiming his identity as a Bangladesh citizen.

‘When I come, I’m already tired and I can’t even try to cross the border.’

Vladimir Mitkovski, the IOM coordinator for the area, said they were in touch with representatives of all ten different nations staying at the camp.

Slovenia police handed over about 150 people to Croatia on Friday and over 50 of them were Bangladeshi. 

Bangladesh does not have embassy in Slovenia, Bosnia and Croatia.

Bangladesh embassy in Austria has a concurrent responsibility to Slovenia, while the embassy in the Netherlands looks after relations with Bosnia and Croatia.   

Bangladesh ambassadors — Muhammad Abdul Muhith to Austria and M Riaz Hamidullah to the Netherlands — told New Age on Saturday that they were in touch with the Slovenia, Bosnia and Croatian authorities respectively.

When his attention was drawn about the people trafficked to Balkan zone, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told New Age on Saturday that the government had started detaining traffickers.

‘The law enforcement agencies are active. No one involved will be spared,’ he said.

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