At least 26 Bangladeshis – who were being trafficked to Europe illegally via Libya – were shot dead while 11 others were wounded on Thursday allegedly by associates of a trafficker in revenge for his death at a Libyan town, leaving Bangladeshi expatriates in Libya in a state of panic.
Libya, which has long been a destination for migrants because of its oil-funded economy, is also an important way station for people attempting to reach Europe across the Mediterranean.
"These Bangladeshi migrants were killed by traffickers. We assume the traffickers had kept them in captivity there to send them to Italy through risky boat journeys," Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said in a video message on Friday.
Thirty-eight Bangladeshis, along with four Africans, were captive at a hideout in Mizda – a town 180 km south of the capital Tripoli. Only one person managed to escape unhurt when the killing spree began.
Twenty-four out of 26 deceased are Sujon and Kamrul from Gopalganj; Zakir Hossain, Saydul, Juel and Ferooz from Madaripur; Juel and Manik from Rajoir; Asadul , Ainal Molla and Monir from Tekerhat; Sajib and Shaheen from Ehshobpur; Shamim from Dudkhali; Arfan from Dhaka; Lal Chandan from Tangail; Rajon, Shakil, Shakib, Shohag, Akash and Md Ali From Kishoreganj; Rahim from Hossainpur and Rakibul frpm Jashore, Brac Migration Programme has confirmed the list from sources in Bangladesh embassy in Libya.
According to a report from the Bangladesh embassy in Tripoli, the survivor conveyed the news of the massacre to the Bangladesh mission in Libya, said Momen.
According to the Brac Migration Programme, around 693 Bangladeshis were detained from January to April this year while trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
Around 39 Bangladeshis died in the Mediterranean when they tried to make their way to Europe in May last year.
According to the UNHCR, around 2.05 million people crossed the Mediterranean Sea from 2014 to April this year. Of them, more than 19,000 people, including many Bangladeshis, have died in their attempts to reach Europe.
Bangladesh is among the top 10 countries whose people try to go to Europe by using the Mediterranean Sea as a route.
Dr Tasneem Siddiqui, a migration expert and a professor at Dhaka University, said, "The recruitment of Bangladeshi workers has remained stopped for the last five years. How, in such circumstances, people are going to Libya must be investigated."
"It is the responsibility of the immigration department and the home ministry to stop illegal migration. Comprehensive measures must be taken immediately by the home, foreign, expatriate welfare and overseas employment and civil aviation ministries," she added.
"It is mainly people from some particular districts, such as Sylhet, Sunamganj, Noakhali, Madaripur and Shariatpur, who go to Europe in such ways. So, the traffickers and local middlemen of these districts need to be identified," said Shariful Hasan, head of the Brac Migration Programme.
"The gang of traffickers was active in the last decade in Libya during the war. Traffickers take Tk3-4 lakh from each person," he added.
Foreign Minister Momen said there might be more such incidents if the human traffickers remained active.
"The dream of going to Europe of our young people is not something new. Earlier, we had some cases of such journeys and identified the traffickers. These people who have been killed might have reached Libya three months ago by spending $8-10 thousand each,"Momen said.
"We gave the list of traffickers to the district administrations concerned earlier, and steps were taken against them. Now the traffickers have become active again and we will collect information about them," added the minister.
He said the government and the Bangladesh mission in Libya were trying to know from which districts the Bangladesh citizens had gone to Libya and through which channels and who had caused them to fall into this trap.
Dr Momen urged the young people of the country not to take such risks.
The Bangladesh embassy in a subsequent memo sent to the foreign ministry said the Bangladeshi who escaped unhurt in the carnage took refuge at the home of a "generous Libyan," from where he contacted the mission, reported the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha.
"He told the embassy that miscreants made captives of 38 Bangladeshis, including him, and four Africans for ransom as the traffickers were escorting them to Tripoli from Benghazi across the desert 15 days ago to explore means of livelihood for them," reads the memo.
The bodies of the men have been kept at a Mizda hospital, where the wounded Bangladeshis were being treated as well "with bullet wounds on their back, chest, hand, and leg".
A process was underway for "subsequent measures" as the bodies were kept in a morgue in line with Libyan law.
Momen said, "Among the 11 wounded Bangladeshis, five are in critical condition while the remaining six are now well in the hospital."
"We have requested the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to take necessary steps about the deceased."
The Bangladesh mission in Libya has demanded compensation and punishment of those responsible for the murder of the 26 Bangladeshis, he added.
Meanwhile, Brac has demanded the arrest and punishment of traffickers and urged the Bangladesh government to take assistance in this regard from various international organisations.