West African nation Togo is known for its palm-lined beaches and hilltop villages. But for human traffickers, the country on the Gulf of Guinea is a new-founded place to torture Bangladeshi youths for ransom on their illegal trips to European countries.
After arresting at least half a dozen members of the trafficking racket recently, police's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) said the youths are first taken to India or Bangkok from Dhaka. Then they fly to Togo via Ethiopia.
CID said it came to know about a torture cell in Togo capital Lomé that has been run by the Bangladeshi chief of the racket and a Togo national. At the cell, they torture the European migration aspirants and send the video footages to the victims' families for hefty ransoms.
Four Bangladeshi youths, who were in the cell for around two years, managed to flee the country and returned home with the help of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in June. They told CID that at least 20 Bangladeshis are still in captivity in Togo.
The new human trafficking route to Europe unfolded to CID as the department launched an investigation of the trafficking cases filed by four returnees.
AKM Akteruzzaman, additional superintendent of police at CID's anti-human trafficking unit, said they have identified a number of members of the human trafficking gang alongside arresting six individuals.
CID officials said the route was being used by the gang for at least four years as one Mohammad Sumon Mia of Narsingdi had been leading it. Staying in Togo, Mia set up his network across Bangladesh including the Chattogram Hill Tracts.
CID says one Togo national is one of the main characters of the racket.
In separate raids on Saturday and Sunday in Narsingdi and Munshiganj, CID arrested six including Mia's wife Anny and second-in-command Tuhin. Anny and Tuhin Monday gave confessional statements to a Dhaka court.
Anny was a private bank official in Narsingdi. After her arrest, law enforcers found Tk50 lakh in her bank account.
A CID official in conditions of anonymity said an airline member is also involved in the gang. He fled Dhaka for the USA on 14 June as the trafficking cases were filed. Police have written to the Interpol seeking help for bringing him back.
Horrific narratives of torture
Shafiqur Rahman (not his real name), one of the four youths who managed to flee Togo and reached home in June, told The Business Standard that he planned going overseas as he failed in the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exam.
Shafiqur said he contacted numerous people for three years, but did not get "any suitable link".
"I came to know Matin through my maternal uncle two years ago. Matin told me that he will send me to Europe within one month for Tk16 lakh," said Shafiqur.
Matin brought Shafiqur to Tuhin who took Tk5 lakh initially. Tuhin said the hang took off his passport after arriving in Togo.
"They would beat me in the torture cell, and stop giving any food. I rarely had rice during my almost two years of captivity," he recalled.
Shafiqur later managed to contact a Togo-based non-government organisation that he said rescued four of them and helped flee the country.
"My father had to give Tk10 lakh ransom to the gang in the two years," said Shafiqur. His father said he managed the ransom by selling his lands and borrowing from others.
A countrywide network
CID officials said Mia's countrywide trafficking network has an outreach even to hilly Rangamati. They said each of the gang members of the network would get Tk1 lakh commission upon providing a client.
Promising European migration, the traffickers in 2018 sent Rangamati's Anwar and Al Amin to Togo. Anwar is believed to be still in the torture cell as Al Amin has returned home.
"Bringing the 20 youths back home is difficult since Bangladesh does not have any diplomatic or trade ties with Togo," said a CID official.
He said Mia recently has sent his passport to the Bangladesh authorities for renewal. CID has notified the home ministry and the passport authorities and requested not to renew the passport.