Anti-trafficking efforts in Bangladesh has improved, according to the U.S. government’s annual report ranking countries on their anti-trafficking standards, but it must do more to increase convictions and investigate cases involving the Rohingya people.
The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP)report, which sorts countries into four tiers based on their efforts to fight trafficking, upgraded the South Asian nation for 2020.
Bangladesh moved from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2, meaning it does meet the minimum standards to eliminate trafficking but that it no longer faces special scrutiny and is at less risk of falling to Tier 3, which can trigger United States sanctions.
“We weren’t happy about being on the watchlist and so we took it seriously,” said Abu Bakar Siddique, additional secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Bangladesh.
“We have improved our capacity and are hopeful of progressing further,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation after the nation changed rankings for the first time since 2017.
The report credited Bangladesh with setting up tribunals to handle a backlog of trafficking cases, tripling convictions – 25 up from eight last year – and identifying 585 potential victims, which represented a 40% rise on the previous reporting period.
Yet investigations were down by nearly half and the country must “significantly increase” prosecutions and convictions – particularly for labour trafficking – the U.S. government said.
Bangladesh had at least 4,407 trafficking cases that remained pending investigation or prosecution as of the end of 2019, and a conviction rate of 1.7%, according to the report.
Tariqul Islam, country director for the anti-trafficking charity Justice and Care, said “there was more work to do”.”
“We have to renew our commitment to ensuring traffickers are pursued through the courts and to reinforce our work with other countries to handle the criminal networks,” he added.
The U.S. government also criticised Bangladesh for failing to investigate “hundreds of credible reports” of trafficking of Rohingya or eliminate high recruitment fees that Bangladeshis pay to recruiters to get jobs abroad, which can lead to abuses.
More than a million mostly Muslim Rohingya reside in camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, with the majority having fled a 2017 army-led crackdown in largely Buddhist Myanmar.
Many refugees attempting to reach Malaysia by boat from Bangladesh are being held hostage by traffickers who have demanded ransoms from their relatives with threats of violence, several families and aid groups said this month.
Bangladesh earlier this month arrested more than 50 people accused of extorting money from people on false promises of jobs overseas in a major crackdown on human trafficking after 30 migrant workers were murdered in Libya.
Yet Bangladesh lacks sufficient agreements to receive evidence from foreign governments, the report found, stating that trafficking cases can take several years to progress.
Siddique said that it would be a “big challenge” to tackle global trafficking rings without cross-border cooperation. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)