30 de agosto de 2019
Complaint against International Organization of Migration of ‘severe concerns’ over treatment of rescued migrants in Tunisia
The UN migration agency is the subject of a formal complaint after “severe concerns” were raised about its treatment of Bangladeshi migrants, including children.
A Tunis-based NGO, Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux (FTDES), filed a complaint to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) this month, after migrants alleged officials and diplomats had put pressure on them to return home following weeks at sea.
The group of 64 Bangladeshis said they felt pressed by the IOM to sign a voluntary return paper, or risk arrest.
They also said diplomats from the Bangladeshi embassy had warned them that if they did not sign the voluntary return document, they would become victims of organ trafficking.
“Based on the testimonies we collected, FTDES files this complaint to the IOM to raise severe concerns about the treatment of migrants by IOM Tunisia,” read the complaint.
“The testimonies of the migrants were consistent and all allude to forms of malpractice on the part of IOM.”
The migrants were rescued by the vessel Maridive 601 in May, only to spend another three weeks stranded at sea as European authorities refused to let them land.
“According to the migrants, IOM staff members used intense psychological pressure during the interviews to force them to accept their ‘voluntary’ return to Bangladesh,” said FTDES. “They also said that when they refused to sign the AVRR form, the psychological pressure increased. The migrants attest that neither UNHCR or Unicef were present during these initial interviews, and they did not know that they had the right to claim asylum. Moreover, no medical assistance that they had asked for was provided.”
The IOM has denied any pressure was applied to the migrants to return to Bangladesh, and said that all documentation was explained to them in a language they understood. IOM said migrants were informed of all options available to them regarding asylum and remaining in Tunisia.
The men were among a group of 75 – about half of whom were unaccompanied children – rescued by the Maridive 601. After 19 days at sea , they were allowed to disembark in Zarzis, Tunisia, and were taken to a Red Crescent reception centre in Tunis. Over the following days, dozens of people were deported to Bangladesh through the voluntary return and reintegration programme.
But nine of the migrants, interviewed by the Guardian, said they felt the IOM had put all of the Bangladeshi migrants under immense psychological pressure to return to Bangladesh while they were still on the boat, and after they’d docked.
“The IOM gave us a sheet,” said one. “The documents said nobody would force us to leave. They told us the police here in Tunisia will arrest us and they don’t know when we’ll be released. The government in Bangladesh is not helping and neither are the Tunisians. Please, we want to stay.”
Another said: “Every day they asked us what we had decided. They knew we didn’t want to go back, but they kept asking us anyway. They told us to sign a paper in French, but I don’t speak French. They told me to sign that paper and return to Bangladesh. But I didn’t sign it.” The men said the IOM did not provide translations.
One of the men, who spoke some English, said he was asked to translate, but he said: “At the time I had no idea what a ‘minor’ was, what the ‘UNHCR’ was, or what ‘asylum’ was,” he told the Guardian.
“They tried to scare us. they wanted to send us back to Bangladesh,” said another migrant. “People started to cry. I would rather be killed than go back.”
A spokesman from the Bangladeshi embassy in Tripoli, which is responsible for Tunisia’s affairs, said he couldn’t comment on the specific incident, but was aware of the allegations against embassy officials, and was “taking the accusations very seriously”.
He said the embassy was “willing to collaborate with the foreign ministry in Dhaka in case they decide to launch an investigation”. The embassy does not have the authority to launch its own investigation.
“If it did happen, then the ministry of foreign affairs in Dhaka could go on with the charge.
“This is just the beginning. We’ll be with you on this,” added the spokesman. “We know who was part of the team that led that mission.”
The Bangladeshi migrants told the Guardian repeatedly that their lives would be at risk if they returned to Bangladesh. Many had accumulated debts to reach Libya and if they were to return they feared they would be threatened and tortured.
One boy, who had escaped from the Tunis reception centre to avoid returning home, attempted to cross the Mediterranean again, but his boat was intercepted and he is now understood to be in detention in Libya.
A relative of one of the survivors said: “In Bangladesh there are people who want to kill him. He paid all the money and went to Libya to get away from the problems in Bangladesh. Then he escaped from Libya because of the problems there. He wants to go to Europe.”
A spokesman for the IOM, Leonard Doyle, said those who opted to return received counselling and had the contents of documents explained to them in a language they understood.
He added: “IOM informed migrants of all available options, including asylum. IOM staff members explained the procedure to obtain residence permits for migrants who were not seeking asylum in Tunisia, but who wished to remain in the country, and informed the migrants of the fact that one of the required documents to obtain a residence permit in Tunisia is a valid passport.
“The migrants who expressed a wish to stay do not have passports. Passports cannot be obtained in Tunisia. Therefore, IOM staff detailed the risk of staying in an irregular situation. It is fundamental for IOM that migrants take informed and free decisions.”
FTDES has confirmed that four of the Bangladeshis who refused to sign the voluntary return agreement and decided to remain in Tunisia were eventually granted asylum seeker status by the UNHCR last week.