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At least 30 Bangladeshi migrants have been sent back to their country, threatened with food and water deprivation.
More than 30 Bangladeshi migrants were sent back to their home country Wednesday, against their will, say relatives and aid groups. The migrants had been adrift in a merchant ship off the Tunisian coast for weeks.
The Bangladeshi refugee seekers were among 75 people saved May 31 by the China-owned ship, Maridive 601, a vessel assisting offshore oil platforms. The rescused had spent the last 20 days near the Tunisian coast before being transported June 18 to a detention center in Tunisia.
Seventeen of them were sent to their country a few days later, and Tuesday, another 15 Bangladeshi were also turned away.
The U.N International Organization for Migration (IOM) claims the 30 Bangladeshi wanted to go back to their country.
“More migrants will be travelling in the coming days, according to their decision,” said the organization.
However, relatives and local aid organizations said the migrants accepted to return home after an envoy from Bangladesh visited them and threatened to deprive them of food, water and medical treatment if they stayed.
“When all the people were on the boat, they were told by the Bangladeshi embassy that if they didn’t agree to sign, they would not get any food or water any more. The people were afraid to die on the boat. The Bangladeshi embassy forced them to sign,” said a relative to the Guardian.
The Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux (FTDES) (Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights), an independent organization defending migrants' rights, said it did not believe these people had willingly decided to go back home.
“We have tried to visit the migrants in the reception center in order to inquire about their well being but despite making repeated inquiries and requests, the whereabouts of the detained migrants was not revealed,” the group declared.
The IOM rejected accusations stating that nobody had been forced and that all migrants wanted to return to their country.
“Remaining at sea was not a solution either. It is up to the person to also apply for asylum if they fear persecution … or seek help to return home or take time to decide,” said Lorena Lando, the IOM’s head of mission in Tunisia.
A spokesperson for Alarm Phone, a hotline for refugee-seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea towards Europe said that the IOM is talking about “voluntary returns” when there is nothing “voluntary" in telling people they can leave their ordeal of being trapped in sea, only if they accept to be deported.
“Do we really believe that these Bangladeshi people risked their lives to move to Libya and then to try to cross the Mediterranean, only to then be ‘voluntarily’ returned to Bangladesh,” the spokesperson concluded.