Alam suffered horrible torture aboard a ship on the Andaman Sea for many months before being rescued. Now he has opened a tea stall in his village and is rebuilding his emotional and financial strength so he can provide for his son.

 

“I was trapped on a ship for months” Photo: www.abc.net.au

 

Md. Alam was one such job seeker from Narsingdi, the eldest son of a poor family.  He used to run a small clothing business but when his son was born, his income was no longer sufficient. His friend, Nazmul, who had moved to Malaysia five months earlier, gave him the idea of migration. Nazmul gave Alam the phone number of a dalal (middle man) who promised to secure a job for him in return for 220,000 BDT.

 

Most migrants go abroad due to lack of work at home. Source: IOM KAP Survey 2017

 

Alam sold his business and took a loan from a microcredit institute. The dalal took him and a few others by van to Chittagong. Alam spent a night there, before he was passed on to another dalal who kept him in a dark house, locked up “for his own safety” for a week.  Next he was shifted to a small boat on a stormy night. The boat crew confiscated his passport, mobile phone, bag and sandals.  Waves were so violent, Alam thought he would die.

 

After five hours, the dinghy reached a place where 18 trawlers were docked.  Alam was shifted onto a trawler with 700 people, mostly men from Myanmar, some from Bangladesh. This trawler was his Hell for the next few months. He was hungry, eating less than two fistfuls of rice a day. The crew had guns, botis and daas (large carving knives). If anyone was disobedient, they were disemboweled and thrown into the sea. Public killings quenched any rebellious spirit.

 

One night, the dalals got whiff of a police raid and abandoned the ship. The migrants wept. What would they do now out in the middle of the sea? One migrant, Tofail, said he had been trained for a few weeks by the captain, so he would be take them to shore. That night there was a huge storm but Tofail managed to navigate them to the coast of an island.

 

From the boatmen there, they learned that they had arrived at Thailand. The migrants from Myanmar were able to communicate with the Thai boatmen and asked for directions to Malaysia.  Several hours later, with Tofail at the helm, they reached Malaysia.  By now, Alam’s shirt had disintegrated, so he walked towards his future with nothing but the pants he had left home with.

 

Malaysian police arrested the entire group and placed them in detention.  The days slipped into weeks and then months. Alam became despondent. He wept for hours. After eight months, Alam’s number came up. He was told that IOM, the UN Migration Agency, had been in touch with the Malaysian government, pleaded for his release and purchased for him a ticket home. Alam could not believe his good luck. His friends in jail, men from Sathkhira, Barisal, Tangail, asked him to contact their families. He borrowed a pen from a warden and took their numbers. 

 

Alam boarded a night flight and arrived in Dhaka at 7 am. IOM received him at the airport, gave him money to travel home and lent him a phone to call his family. He managed to get hold of his younger brother’s wife, and after hanging up, he wept with shame.  When he saw his reflection in a mirror for the first time, he wept even more. He had become haggard and hairy, he had aged twenty years.  How could he return home to his parents, his wife, his son, with no money?  They were counting on him. He did not want to let them down, and the burden seemed hard to handle for Alam, who is still almost a child, just barely twenty years old.

 

“I am lucky to have a second chance.”

 

Another migrant saw his consternation and took him to a barber.  After a shave, and a big meal, his friend told him it was time to go home. Alam returned home and was greeted with love and joy. He realized he would much rather dwell in poverty at home than search for financial security abroad. He got a job as ticket agent at a holiday park near home and worked for one year to pay off his debt.

 

IOM’s Building the Lives of Returning Migrants project, funded by DIBP Australia, supported him to rebuild his life.

After return, the project team worked with him to understand his conditions, area of interest for work, capacity, constraints and dreams.

 

He received individual assistance in two forms: household assistance and capital injection. He used this capital injection to purchase a tea stall. The household assistance was to support his family.

 

Since he had never ran a business before, he lacked knowledge on finance and entrepreneurship. So, the project provided him with training on financial literacy, business development and entrepreneurship. He also received training on safe migration, household gardening and compost preparation. He was also introduced to local traders and businessmen to support him with forward and backward linkage for his business. He has formed a group with other returnees in his area of residence. Together they are now more organized, have better communication skills and better knowledge on how to run their own businesses. Now he thinks about his future and has a proper plan based on the yearlong counselling he received.

 

He says he is happy with his life, he will never try to migrate through irregular channels again.

 

See also - https://www.dhakatribune.com/business/2018/04/04/harrowing-plight-migrants-sea/