Roughly four years after they were rescued and sheltered in homes across West Bengal, more than 200 Bangladeshi victims of human trafficking are anxiously waiting for return to their country, but ironically they themselves have become the stumbling blocks.
According to a government official, in most cases the girls either cannot provide addresses in Bangladesh to where they can be sent back or their parents cannot be located.
Principal secretary of the state's Women and Child Welfare Development Roshni Sen told PTI, "At present, about 220 rescued trafficked victims are lodged at various homes and are waiting to return to Bangladesh. However, some factors, legal and otherwise, have come in the way of their return."
Asma and Shyla (name changed) are two such victims, lodged in a home for more than three years, who did not know each other till a few years back, but now they are best of friends and share the dream of going back to their homeland.
Sen heads a special task force established to deal with repatriation of the trafficked girls. The task force comprises members of the police, BSF, NGOs and officials of Bangladesh embassy and other agencies.
Sen said that in the last five years they had sent back nearly 400 trafficked victims back to Bangladesh, but there were many who failed to provide their addresses and names of their parents.
"In most cases the addresses or the parents of the victims could not be traced, though we completed the standard operating procedure. Secondly, there were instances in which the victims were unable to identify their homes," Sen said.
Sen also noted that since some trafficking cases were pending in courts, the victims were required to be present here because of their being prime witnesses against traffickers. "In some cases after sending them back home we have arranged for special video conferences to submit witness accounts," she said.
According to an NGO 'Sanlaap', which also runs a home for rescued trafficked victims, often victims don't remember names of their villages as they were trafficked at a tender age of 10-12.
Tapoti Bhowmik of Sanlaap said, "It often takes three to four years for a victim to be sent back home. A large number of victims get stuck in India due to delay in legal and bureaucratic procedures."
An official of the International Justice Mission, a human rights organisation which combats trafficking and slavery, said they were working closely with the task force to quicken the process of their return.
An official of the IJM said, "The trauma faced by the victims is another hurdle. It often takes sustained confidence building measures running into several months before the victims open up and tell the truth about their nationality."