Dolphin visa narrative of Asia’s boat people: more than research and cause of creating new knowledge...

By Ahmed Abid

The influx of Asian boat people is not a new issue at all. Each year, in search of a better life, large numbers of poor Bangladeshi labourers or economic migrants and Rohingyas from Myanmar, attempt to migrate to countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia illegally through sea-routes frequented by human smugglers and traffickers. Most of them ended up in human Slavery. Nearly 150,000 people including Bangladeshis and Rohingyas have taken the risky boat journey in the Bay of Bengal between January 2012 and May 2015[i].  My doctoral study in ‘Human Rights, Society and Multi–level Governance’ is about this vulnerable group of people. Actually, male trafficking from Bangladesh, through the sea route using highly organized networks, is a common phenomenon. This illegal migration process is termed as Dolphin visa (by boat/ sea route), Tarzan visa (by road through forests and hills), and Dalal’s (by brokers syndicates and networks).

Minimal academic work to date has focussed on the psychosocial impact of trafficking experiences upon this population, or on how to support their re-settlement upon return. Amnesty International’s recent report revealed that physical abuse, such as beatings with steel rods, has caused physical disabilities as well as significant psychological trauma and other mental health effects on this group of people[ii].

Since I completed my second masters in Human Rights from Mahidol University, Thailand I have been working on this issue from 2005. First I made a documentary film ‘The Dreaming Vendors’ in 2010. It was just after completing a Summer School on ‘Cinema and Human Rights’ from European Inter University Centre for Human Rights and Democratization (EIUC) in Venice, Italy. Unfortunately, it was not enough to attention of policy makers.   I started presenting my research at academic conferences (e.g. my research on awareness raising and my film at the Borderland conference in Hong Kong, 2014).  

The dreaming vendors.jpg

My recent project study, ‘Journey of Hope (2012-2014)’, sought to raise community awareness of this issue. I presented the narrative of two victims through my film, ‘The Dreaming Vendors’, to people of 11 districts (out of 64 districts) in Bangladesh and users of social media, especially Facebook and videos on YouTube. The consistent feedback from those who viewed the film was that it changed their attitudes towards migrant workers and their families, particularly among young, urban middle class people. However, my efforts to date have not been sufficient to attract the attention of all key stakeholders including the Government of Bangladesh.

To my surprise, making films, presenting papers in conferences or even raising awareness in the field, are not enough to draw the attention of policy makers in governments and development organizations! To contribute to this vulnerable community, I decided to carry out a doctoral study on the issue and looked for the right school and program. I started with this mission for my life in 2006, I have had to struggle 10 years to find the right place.

However, I am lucky that, Dr. Garry Stevens, who is a mental health expert, agreed to be my main supervisor. It is also my pleasure to get Dr. Nichole Georgeou from Humanitarian and Development Studies programme from the School of Social Science, as co-supervisor of my research project. Dr. Nichole Georgeou is not only Director of the Humanitarian and Development Research Initiative (HADRI), Humanitarian and Development Studies, but also is an authority in development research and international human rights protection. In fact, I am not only in the right place but also in the right hands as well. This is a great opportunity for me to work with them and explore and contribute to humanity through this research.

Shooting Boat People, Maesot, Thailand

Shooting Boat People, Maesot, Thailand

The recent exodus of 300,000[i] or more Rohingya’s from Burma to Bangladesh will resume the trajectory of human smuggling the Dolphin Visa narrative. In this modern time such act of heinous human slavery should be stopped.     

I think the outcome of this study will help policy makers, and especially concerned Ministries of the Bangladesh Government, which deal with migration and trafficking to help them develop concrete policies to support safe migration and resettle victims of trafficking. I am confident that this study will bring change for people who are victims and influence policy as well.



About Authour: Ahmed Abid is a filmmaker and research scholar. Ahmed is currently pursuing a joint Ph.D in ‘Human Rights, Society, and Multi-level Governance’; an interdisciplinary academic programme managed by University of Padova (Italy), University of Zagreb (Croatia), Western Sydney University (Australia), Panteion University, (Athens, Greece). He will be available on or skype: ah.abid


[i]  TRT World (2017). Retrieved from

[i] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.), International Organization for Migration

(I.O.M.), and United Nations Office on Drugs and crime (U.N.O.D.C.), “Bay of Bengal and Andaman

 Sea: Proposals for Action,” May 2015, Retrieved from,

[ii] Amnesty International, (2015). Deadly Journeys: The Refugee and Trafficking Crisis in

South East Asia.  Retrieved from