Why do Bangladeshi migrants take irregular routes to Italy?
"I decided to go to Libya when my father died a few years ago. I was the only person of the eight-member family who had to do something to maintain the family," Lakuira Sobuj, a Bangladeshi migrant who came to Italy last year by crossing the Mediterranean sea on a boat from Libya, told InfoMigrants.
The 25-year old Bangladeshi citizen spent around €4,000 to go to Libya in 2020, which was his primary destination for work. He was not planning to come to Europe at that time.
"My family is impoverished. My mother works as a housemaid in our village in the central Bangladeshi district of Shariatpur. I had to sell our cow and take some loan to go to Libya," he told InfoMigrants.
Sobuj, who didn't go to school during his childhood due to poverty, worked as a construction worker for a few months in the Libyan city of Benghazi. But, it was difficult for him to get a salary from his employer. He was beaten when asked for his dues. At some point, Sobuj decides to take the dangerous boat journey from Libya to Italy for a better life.
Crossing the Mediterranean
"We spent around 24 hours on a boat to cross the Mediterranean sea to reach Italy's Lampedusa island from Libya on February 21, 2021. There were 93 people on the boat, over 40 of them were my fellow countrymen," he told InfoMigrants.
Sobuj has been living at a migrant center in Italy's capital Rome since then. His dream of getting a job in the European country is yet to be fulfilled.
"I had to pay another €2,000 to a human trafficker in Libya for my journey to Italy through the Central Mediterranean migration route. But, I'm still unemployed here. I don't know anyone here. Nobody has offered me a job. My mother still works as a housemaid back home," he told InfoMigrants, adding: "I don't know what is waiting for me in the future."
Thousands of Bangladeshi citizens come to Europe via irregular routes
With a GDP of over $409 billion (€362 billion), Bangladesh currently has the world's 37th largest economy, and forecasts suggest that the size of the economy could double by 2030. Even though the South Asian country has become one of the world's fastest-growing economies over the past few years, thousands of its citizens have still been trying to come to Europe through irregular routes in hopes of a better and more secure life.
Yearly statistics published by the EU's border agency Frontex show that at least 8,667 Bangladeshi citizens entered the block last year through irregular routes. Of them, 7,574 came via the Central Mediterranean route, 604 via the Eastern Mediterranean route, and 437 via the western Balkan migration route.
Bangladesh stays at the second position of the list of countries published by the Frontex whose citizens take the dangerous Central Mediterranean migration route that connects Libya with Italy. Seven Bangladeshi migrants died of hypothermia last month while reaching Italy's Lampedusa island from Libya the previous month. Such casualties are regular events on the irregular route.
Italy -- the prime destination of Bangladeshi migrants
Frontex statistics suggest that most Bangladeshi migrants who entered the EU via irregular routes last year took shelter in Italy. The Western European country has remained the primary destination for many Europe-bound Bangladeshi irregular migrants over the past few decades.
Arafat Rahman, a Bangladeshi migrant who came to Serbia last year with a seasonal worker visa, told InfoMigrants that his ultimate destination was Italy.
"I have already spent thousands of euros to find a way to reach Italy from Serbia. And, I'm hoping to make it possible soon," he told InfoMigrants.
The migrant claimed that Bangladeshi human traffickers who live in the Balkan country take four to six thousand euros per person to smuggle them from Serbia to Italy.
"The safest way to make the journey is getting into a lorry that goes to Italy from Serbia. But, you need to pay a lot of money to traffickers to make it happen," Rahman said, adding: "Other ways include crossing the borders on foot, which is risky but less expensive."
However, Rahman wasn't able to make the journey yet. Instead, he ended up living at a migrant center in the Balkan country as a human trafficker had stolen his money and threatened to take his life if he tried to complain to police about the incident.
"I came to Serbia with the hope to reach Italy after failing to get a job as a computer operator at a court in Bangladesh. They told me to pay a bribe of €16,000 to get the job that would pay me around €160 per month as a salary," Rahman told InfoMigrants.
"But, I decided not to take the job as the bribe was too high. I will earn much more in Italy and will pay back the loan that I took to come here," he added.
"Around 150,000 Bangladeshi migrants live in Italy. They are employed in various sectors including agriculture, shipbuilding, and street trading," Shameem Ahsan, Bangladesh Ambassador in Rome, told InfoMigrants.
No other EU country has that many Bangladeshi migrants. The diplomat thinks that the Western European country has a welcoming attitude towards foreigners. It also legalizes irregular migrant workers occasionally.
"There has been a public perception that Italy is very lenient towards foreigners. That's why many people believe that they will get legal status at some point after somehow entering the country using different routes," Ahmed told InfoMigrants.
Limited opportunity for legal migration
After a long break, the Italian government allowed hiring workers from Bangladesh both in "seasonal" and "non-seasonal" categories from 2020. According to a circular issued by the Bangladesh embassy in Rome last month, Italy will issue 69,700 visas for 31 non-European Union countries, including Bangladesh, this year.
"Bangladeshi migrants should try to come to Italy through legal ways. Irregular migrants will eventually be deported as Bangladesh has signed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with the EU to speed up repatriation," Shameem Ahsan said.
But, experts think that the legal way for Bangladeshi migrants to Italy is still minimal.
"Only 3,500 Bangladeshi migrants will be able to come to Italy under the recent circular. It's a tiny number compared to the hundreds of thousands of people interested in coming to the European country," Palash Rahman, a Bangladeshi journalist based in the Italian city of Venice, told InfoMigrants.
"We need to create more legal opportunities for Bangladeshi workers to tackle irregular migration to Europe," he said.
''InfoMigrants is a news and information site for migrants to counter misinformation at every point of their journey. It is a collaboration led by France Médias Monde, Deutsche Welle, and the Italian press agency ANSA.