∙ Victims paid Tk75 lakh, but received forged documents
∙ Gang promised permanent residence visas to Australia
∙ Australia usually charges 3,000-6000 AUDs per applicant
∙ Scammers demanded Tk20 lakh-25 lakh per person
A scammers' gang defrauded at least 35 people this year by promising them permanent residence visas to Australia under the relative sponsor migration category. The victims reportedly paid more than Tk75 lakh, but received forged migration documents.
Australia usually charges between 3,000 AUDs and 6000 AUDs (around Tk1.9 lakh to Tk3.75 lakh) per applicant, excluding students. But the gang had allegedly demanded an exorbitant Tk20 lakh-25 lakh per person, victims said.
After failing repeatedly to contact the gang for reimbursement of the swindled money, they filed two cases against the culprits – one with the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court and another with the Cyber Tribunal of Bangladesh last month.
The prime accused in both cases is Umme Fatema Rosy, a 36-year-old immigrant with an Australian passport, who runs the traffickers' gang, according to the FIR (first information report) in one of the cases.
She is also accused in four other cases filed over allegations of human trafficking and fraudulent behavior, police sources said.
Speaking to The Business Standard, one of the major victims, who is an advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, MABM Khairul Islam said, "Rosy is a long-time family friend of mine, and she introduced herself to me as the current consular general of the Sydney Immigration Office.
"Last March, Rosy told me on phone that the Australian government had given an opportunity to every senior citizen, allowing them to apply for five visas under the relative sponsor migration category. She said the facility could be used to send people to Australia."
Rosy claimed that she was a senior citizen in Australia and she held Australian passport [AUS PA 9740312]. "She said she would sponsor us. I believed her words and submitted all required documents," Khairul said.
He had paid her Tk75.37 lakh for 35 migrant aspirants, including nine of his family members and relatives. Of the amount, he deposited Tk55.37 lakh in two Islami Bank accounts given by Rosy, and paid Tk20 lakh in cash to Rosy's mother Farida Yasmin, 56, another accused in the cases.
After completing all the procedures, Khairul discovered that the visas, tickets, and medicare cards sent to them were simply forged documents. When confronted, Rosy cut off all links with the victims.
Khairul then filed a case against Rosy and three others with the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court over the matter.
Investigation Officer Elius Hossain of Khilgaon Police Station said, "Prime accused Rosy lives abroad. So, we need a bit more time to unearth the whole matter."
The Business Standard tried to reach Rosy on her Australian phone number multiple times for comments, but she did not pick up the phone. Rosy's mother Farida could not be reached by phone either.
Barrister Ershad Ahammed Nishan, an immigration lawyer at the Supreme Court, on the issue said, "People have the opportunity to go to Australia under the relative sponsor migration category. However, Bangladeshi applicants face a relatively higher rate of rejection.
"A person usually has to spend 3,000-6,000 AUDs to apply, which includes all relevant costs such as application and immigration lawyer fees. When someone asks for more, it is usually for additional services such as accommodation in Australia."
He added that scammers usually took advantage of people desperate to leave the country.
According to an unofficial estimate, around 50,000 Bangladeshis are currently living in Australia.
Human trafficking: No signs of slowing down
Human traffickers continue to operate in Bangladesh despite the restrictions in the Covid-19 pandemic. Victims have filed at least 707 cases from January 2020 to March 2021, according to the Brac Migration Programme.
Scammers are mostly offering European nations, Canada and Australia as destinations to aspirant migrants. The number of illegal perilous journeys to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea has reached an alarming level amid the pandemic.
In the first six months of 2021, Bangladesh was at the top among the common nationalities taking risky journeys across the Mediterranean Sea and through land routes to reach Europe, according to an estimate by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Last September, a mobile court detained six scammers and sentenced them to various terms of imprisonment for defrauding people with promises of sending them to Canada and Fiji. The culprits had opened an office in Banani area of Dhaka to deceive people.
Dr Abul Hasnat Milton, a teacher in Australia, wrote in a newspaper article last year that a certain quarter of Bangladeshis in Sydney were swindling aspiring migrants in Dhaka.
"Many have become the victims of such fraud, and lost everything after paying these culprits an exorbitant amount of money without any receipts or documents. These scammers are misusing their political and social identities to confuse people."
Hasnat added that the immigration website of Australia has details about the country's immigration process.
"It is possible for a select group of professionals to come to Australia as immigrants under the skilled migration category. Business people can also come under some other categories. Refugees can get visas too, but this is nearly impossible for Bangladeshi citizens nowadays," said the migration specialist.