DHAKA, 11 August 2005 - UNICEF is pleased to announce that the first group of Bangladeshi camel jockeys has been repatriated from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and arrived safely in Dhaka this morning.
The thirty six former camel jockeys aged between 4 and 15 were greeted by the State Minister of Home Affairs, Md. Lutfozzaman Babar and UNICEF country representative Morten Giersing at Zia International airport after their flight from Abu Dhabi.
A further 15 children were also repatriated bringing the number of children who arrived today from the UAE to 51.
“The priority for these children now is that they be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the family, their local communities and Bangladesh society. Their safety and well-being is our focus now,” said Mr Giersing.
In May of this year the government of the UAE Government banned camel racing with the use of underage jockeys – that is, children under the age of 16. Most of these children received little or no pay, had no access to education, were starved before races to keep their weight down and were separated from family and culture.
Some of these children were trafficked from Bangladesh, others were sent there to earn money for their families back home and others were used as underage jockeys to earn money for the family living in the UAE.
Under the new law, no child or adult who has been involved in camel racing is allowed to stay in the UAE. With UNICEF support, the Government of Bangladesh began the process of verifying which children were Bangladeshi and making the appropriate arrangements for their repatriation.
“It was extremely important that the preparedness activities and verification process be thorough and exhaustive to ensure the right children were identified and helped. UNICEF provided technical and advisory and financial support to the Government of Bangladesh throughout this process,” said Mr Giersing.
A three member delegation comprising of a member of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a social worker from the NGO sector travelled to the UAE to begin the verification process. Through their efforts, the first group has arrived safely.
“Unification is our main goal, making sure these children are placed with their families and communities. We have helped the Government of Bangladesh establish a tracing system whereby the children are reunified with their parents or carer,” said Mr Giersing.
UNICEF was instrumental in establishing The Committee on Children involved in Camel Racing which is comprised of members from Government, NGOs, UNICEF and IOM (The International Organisation for Migration).
This Committee ensured that there was a systematic process, a good level of co-ordination between the governments of Bangladesh and the UAE and that there was a high level of commitment from the different government and NGO actors.
UNICEF will continue its involvement with these children and the ones still remaining in the UAE for their safe repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration. More than 150 children remain in the UAE and UNICEF is working with officials both in Bangladesh and the UAE to repatriate them as soon as possible.
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