Background and objective of the project:
As a researcher of development issues and media, I recently had the opportunity to observe and undertake research on different vulnerable ethnic groups in Asia. International media coverage has focused on the plight of the stateless Rohingya minority in Myanmar since 2009, however vulnerable people have been trafficked through coastal routes in the Bay of Bengal for decades.
Whatever the specific drivers to undertake a journey, those trafficked are frequently exploited by unscrupulous operators, and find it difficult to find refuge. Human trafficking also has severe psychological effects on already vulnerable people.
The Rohingya are in fear of their lives as the Myanmar state has launched an offensive to remove them from its Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state. From November 2010, when I completed this film, around 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar. After a violent government crackdown in August 2017, around 500,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. Since that time the Rohingya have been entering Bangladesh by the boatload at several points along the Naf River, which forms part of the southern border between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Like other refugees, they are prepared to risk their lives embarking on a dangerous sea journey in order to escape oppression and severe human rights violations, including murder and rape. Each year the exodus claims more lives as boats sink in the Bay of Bengal or the Andaman Sea. Those who survive are most often subject to arrest and further human rights violations.
I started working with vulnerable populations in April 2007 when I met 200 stranded trafficked Rohingya boat people in Mae Sot, Thailand, including some from Bangladesh. At that time, with the support of South East Asia Regional Cooperation in Human Development (SEARCH)-CIDA, I started documenting their plight with different media tools.
SEARCH has developed a mechanism for these trafficked people, and it has worked with different local and international actors to help this group of vulnerable people. With the direct involvement of SEARCH, the first returning process for the Asian boat people came out, and it supported the first two Bangladeshis to return home. Since then Bangladeshi boat people who have ended up in Thailand are able to return home. In addition, I used new media for reporting on a web portal, joined conferences and presented papers around South East Asia, which drew the attention of concerned authorities. Finally, I made this documentary film over a very difficult three-year period.
Although I completed the film in 2010, the situation of trafficked people is still dire and of great humanitarian concern. I think this film can play an important role in campaigns that inform those vulnerable to being trafficked, especially from around the coastal belt of Bangladesh. It is also an important communication tool to inform stakeholders inside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
We have already developed a project to bring this documentary to 10 million people in Bangladesh to raise awareness of human trafficking. We successfully ran a cultural caravan and ran the campaign in 11districts of Bangladesh from June 2012- June 2014. We got nominal support from the Prince Claus Fund of the Netherlands, and support from local media like Ekattor Tv and BDNEWS24.com, Dhaka FM radio as our partners. One of the important outcomes of this caravan was the press conference on 30th March 2013 with Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, the then Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh, who was keynote speaker. Professor Rahman emphasized the importance of the issue and asked the government to take steps to address it. Later, in mid-April 2013, the Government of Bangladesh approved in principle a tougher law that provided for up to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment and Bangladeshi Taka 500,000 (about USD$6,000) in fines for fraudulent practices by recruiting agencies.
However due to a lack of resources we have not yet been able to fully realise the program in the remaining districts of Bangladesh. We need the support of national stakeholders and the international community to carry out our mission.
Ahmed Abid & Lokoyog- MMC Team