POST TIME: 1 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Travel agents sending women for ‘sex racket’

Travel agents sending 
women for ‘sex racket’

When Rumana Akter and Ahmed Kabir (not real names) started their newly married life under the dark shadow of poverty, they decided to change their fate for better. So, Rumana decided to go abroad to earn a livelihood that would make life with her husband a little bit easier.

Opportunity came in the shape of Md Gias Uddin, an employee of Three Star Travels, the couple told The Independent.

Gias Uddin connected Rumana with a potential employer abroad, who, after watching Rumana through video call on Gias Uddin's mobile, chose to hire the young woman. Then, as demanded by the travel agency, Rumana and Kabir paid Tk 80,000, taking loans from different sources. After long procedures and formalities, Rumana was finally sent to Saudi Arabia on January 5, this year, through Hazrat Shajalal International Airport in Dhaka.

Everything was good until she reached Saudi Arabia. After reaching there, she was put up in a hotel. Five hours later, a shocked Rumana realised she had been sold as a sex worker in the hotel. One after another, someone would be sent to her and she was bound to have sex.

Realising she had to free herself from the hands of her tormentors, Rumana started to scram. Her captors tried to subdue her, but she did not relent. After passing three harrowing days in Saudi Arabia, Rumana was brought back to Bangladesh on January 9, after she claimed she was pregnant.

Rumana went abroad to change her fate, but returned empty-handed, losing everything. Samina Akter (not real name), from Ghonarpara of Cox’s Bazar district, has a similar story. She was sold in a brothel in Saudi too, and she was able to return home after one year only after paying Tk 200,000 to the sender.

The Independent found that Rumana was sent in a completely illegal way, though her visa was issued under the legal framework. The travel agency did not take any departure certificate (Manpower) from the Ministry Of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, even though it is mandatory for all migrant workers. No permission was taken from the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) either.

It was found that, for her, the visa was sought by one Nurah Masyad Alian Al Balabi having ID No.: 1003168522 to engage her as a housemaid, and the delegated travel agency in Bangladesh was mentioned as Al Mijab International, RL No.820. Mohammad Shah Alam, managing partner of the Al Mijab International, refused to answer the question as to how the woman was sent to Saudi Arabia without any departure certificate from BMET.

“You may not get any benefit by filing this report,” he threatened this correspondent.

Contacted, Mohammad Jahirul Alam Majumder, assistant director of the BMET, told The Independent: “The woman was sent illegally. The recruiting agency concerned did not take any departure certificate from us. Without any departure certificate she should not have been allowed to pass by the immigration police.”

He raised the question as to how the immigration police allowed her to leave the airport.

The officer-in-charge of immigration or the additional SP of immigration at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport could not be reached for their comments despite several attempts to call them on their mobile phones.

Three Star Travels is allegedly one of the masterminds in illegally sending people from Chittagong.

In 2015, the Ministry of Religious Affairs cancelled the license of the travel agency and slapped a fine of Tk 1 crore for trafficking people under Umrah Visa. Moreover, allegations of money laundering (hoondi business) are also mounting against travel agencies like Three Star.

Mohammed Abdul Khaleque, managing partner of Three Star Travels, acknowledged Gias Uddin is indeed an employee of the travel agency. But, he said, "Gias might have sent the woman through other travel agency. I will talk to him about this.”

On November 24, 2017, immigration police stopped four people who were being trafficked to Mozambique under the guise of travelling to India by visit visa, when they were actually being sent to Mozambique. The four were being sent by Skyzone Travels. Each of them had paid Tk 150,000 to Skyzone for this. A case was filed with Patenga Police Station in this connection.

On January 18, 2017, immigration police detained 14 people, including seven women, who were going to Saudi Arabia on Umrah Hajj Visa.

On October 13, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) members arrested 39 people at Shah Amanat International Airport, while they were going to Libya illegally.

“To stop trafficking under legal framework, the recruitment process has to be clearer. When a potential worker goes to the BMET for biometric manpower clearance, it needs to be ensured that he/she is going abroad knowing all about the job. The immigration police should ensure that he/she is joining a job that the person knows, and the recruitment cost should be reduced,” said Ashraful Azad, assistant professor of department of international relations at Chittagong University.