DHAKA: Hundreds of Bangladeshi construction workers have been beaten and humiliated by soldiers in Iraq after being dragged into their host country’s sectarian conflict, their colleagues said Thursday.
Some had their beards shaved off by the mainly Shiite troops after being accused of sympathizing with Sunni insurgents while one of them was stripped naked, according to the men, who spoke after they returned home.
“They abducted the Bangladeshi preacher from our camp mosque last Thursday and when he was released Saturday, you could see torture marks all over his body,” Raqibul Islam said in an interview in Dhaka.
“They burnt his beard with cigarettes and then cut it off with knife. His body was also beaten with stones. He was tortured because he is a Sunni. He was returned only after we stopped work and protested his abduction,” he added.
Mofidul Islam, another of the group of 21 workers who managed to return to Bangladesh Tuesday, said abuses had been widespread.
“The Iraqis beat hundreds of our colleagues. ... Whoever has a big beard was targeted and beaten mercilessly,” said Islam. “One of the workers was made to strip naked and then beaten. They entered our camps and locked the doors and then beat the workers with rifles.”
The Bangladeshis were all working on construction projects in the Bismayah region, south of Baghdad, when Sunni militants began seizing large parts of the country from the Iraqi army last month.
While their Korean employer released the workers from their contracts, Raqibul said many had been stranded as they were unable to afford to buy plane tickets home.
Officials say around 20,000 Bangladeshis are living in Iraq, though the actual number is thought to be much higher.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 04, 2014, on page 9.