Despite lackadaisical measures from time to time to protect the incoming and outgoing passengers from hassles and sufferings at Zia International Airport (ZIA), the scourge of trafficking in currency, gold, and products including medicines appears to remain entrenched there.
It still goes on unabated. The illicit act has long been carried out by a nexus of a section of Bangladesh Biman employees, customs officials, on-duty law enforcement personnel, seasoned smugglers, transport workers, porters and sweepers.
Besides muggers and cheats move around the airport area defiantly.
"In the wake of widespread criminal activities including smuggling, cheating, extortion and mugging in and around ZIA, the law enforcement agencies and the army during the immediate past caretaker government tried their best to restore a congenial atmosphere by launching a massive crackdown, which forced the organised syndicates and other thugs to go into hiding. But they all are back after this respite, apparently upon getting the green signal from their godfathers. They are now roaming the airport and committing all sorts of crimes including big ones," a broker preferring not be named, told The Independent yesterday.
During a visit to ZIA recently, this reporter found an anarchic situation prevailing at the terminal. As soon as an in-coming passenger steps onto the airport, she or he falls prey to a section of the Biman employees, customs officials, police, Ansar people, smugglers, transport workers, and even porters, sweepers. And the cheats appear to be omnipresent. All this leads to a suffocating, hostile as well as intimidating atmosphere for the incoming passengers every day at the nation's premier airport.
Talking to this correspondent, the officer-in-charge (OC) of the airport police station admitted the fact saying, "We know everything, but we are helpless as the airport police station is working under the CAAB (Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh). Even the law enforcers from Ansar and APBN (Armed Police Battalion) deployed in and around the airport are also working under the CAAB. When the CAAB asks us to deploy police force, only then do we go into action. But our forces work honestly in combating untoward incidents."
Raju Ahmed, worker at a private company in Malaysia, said, "Whenever I arrive at ZIA from abroad, I become a victim of harassment by a section of unscrupulous airport staff right under the nose of the police and the CAAB people. Frustration and panic start gripping me as I begin to think whether I would be able to reach home smoothly. As I have faced such hazards several times, I now know how to tackle this adverse situation."
Echoing the almost same experience Mohammad Billal Hossain, an employee of a private company in Saudi Arabia, said people who especially work in different countries of Middle East, Malaysia and some other foreign countries, become the victims of harassment as most of them do not have much previous experience about ZIA as incoming passengers.
"We Bangladeshi people working in foreign countries have several times requested the authorities concerned to take immediate steps for smooth arrival and departure of air passengers. But there is no sign of improvement till now," he added.
Moreover, traffic police, who regulate the parking at the airport, allegedly realise Taka 50 to 100 illegally from each car in addition to normal toll. Besides, the Ansar personnel collect from the incoming passengers handsome tips. If tips are not paid, the passengers are harassed in different ways, sources complained to this correspondent.
On the other hand, according to airport sources, the CAAB's scanning operators are not trained and a good number of them are allegedly connected with the smugglers who use Bangladesh as transit route for trafficking gold and foreign currencies through airports. CAAB paerformance is not satisfactory, and, on the other hand, "a section of its employees is directly involved in crimes", sources in ZIA said.
They said gold is being smuggled into Bangladesh from various countries while huge foreign currencies like US dollars, pounds, Euro and Saudi Riyal are also being smuggled.
The smugglers who use the country as transit route for trafficking gold and foreign currencies through ZIA are yet to be identified and arrested. They get protection and patronage of the crime syndicates, who have an unholy alliance with a group of corrupt officials of police, customs, Biman and Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh, sources said. But most of smugglers escape punishment for lack of convincing evidence.
It is alleged that a number of employees at CAAB responsible for airport security are involved in illegal foreign currency trade and gold smuggling. Some of them were arrested on different occasions but later released due to pressure of the CAAB union. These CAAB employees - mostly cleaners, conveyor belt operators and security guards - are known as 'carriers' in the airport's smuggling jargon. They allegedly have links with high officials concerned for smuggling of contraband items, sources at the airport said. source:The Independent