Representational image (iStock)

BANGLADESH police have arrested more than 50 people accused of extorting money from people on false promises of jobs overseas in a major crackdown on human trafficking after 30 migrant workers were murdered in Libya.

The series of arrests began after 30 migrants, including 24 Bangladeshi, were abducted and killed by traffickers in the African nation three weeks ago. The Libyan government issued arrest warrants for suspects following the deaths.

The arrests in Bangladesh were mostly made in Dhaka, the capital, and included a ringleader who sent about 400 Bangladeshis to Libya illegally in the last decade, police said.

“(Arresting traffickers) is a part of the regular duty of Bangladesh Police but obviously this is the strongest operation against traffickers in recent times,” said Sohel Rana, spokesman of the Bangladesh Police said.

He said most of the accused were being charged under a 2012 law that criminalized trafficking in Bangladesh with penalties ranging from five years to life imprisonment.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s largest exporters of labour and depends heavily on money sent home from overseas workers, with about 700,000 people going overseas to jobs each year. Remittances are the nation’s second-largest source of foreign earnings after its massive textile industry.

But unlicensed brokers are known to charge workers thousands of dollars with promises of good jobs abroad that don’t exist. Campaigners say that the country’s dependency on unofficial brokers for recruitment opens the path to exploitation.

The United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates there are about 21,000 Bangladeshi migrants in Libya, accounting for about 3% of the migrant population.

The IOM said migrants from Bangladesh reported the highest costs of journey to travel to Libya in comparison to migrants from other countries, paying on average $3,200 per person.

The migrants killed in Libya last month were crossing the desert from the seaport of Benghazi in search of work and were taken hostage by an armed group and were tortured for ransoms before being shot.

The killings underscored the dangers that migrants can face in Libya which is home to a large number of migrant workers but where violence and lawlessness allows traffickers to operate.

The Bangladesh Police has committed to working with international organizations such as Interpol to prevent trafficking related issues.

The South Asian nation has been on a U.S. State Department watchlist for the past three years over its record on human trafficking, putting it at risk of a downgrade that could trigger sanctions, limiting access to international aid.

While the police said progress as being made, some human rights activists voiced concerned that many of those arrested this month may walk free due to the country’s low conviction rate for trafficking crimes.

This rate of convictions was 0.4 per cent between 2013-2019, according to the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report.

Tariqul Islam, country director for the anti-trafficking charity Justice and Care, said there needed to be more coordination between the investigating authority and the prosecutor to build strong cases against criminals.

“Evidence-based investigation reports and protection of witnesses are prerequisite for successful prosecution,” he said.