Almost 200 workers from Rana Plaza factory collapse still listed as missing
Eight months after a clothing factory collapse, 200 workers are still to be identified and their relatives have run into a wall of bureaucracy
The Guardian in Savar, Bangladesh
Almost 200 workers are still missing from the Bangladesh factory that collapsed eight months ago, compounding the misery for relatives who have received little in the way of compensation.
More than 1,134 people died in the April 24 disaster, mainly workers making clothes for sale on Western high streets by retailers including Matalan, Primark and other household names. The tragedy was the world's worst industrial accident in a generation.
In the days after the tragedy, more than 800 bodies were visually identified by relatives or by identity cards or other personal possessions, officials said. Their families received 20,000 taka (HK$1,965) for immediate funeral expenses from the local administration and later a further sum of at least 100,000 taka from a special fund set up by the Bangladeshi prime minister's office.
Relatives of identified victims also received payment of outstanding wages by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and sums equivalent to monthly wage payments from Primark, the British retailer which sold clothes made in Rana Plaza. But people whose relatives are still officially missing have received almost nothing.
"I am still waiting for any compensation. They found my daughter's phone, but nothing else, even though she had her identity card on her," said Abu Kashem Mollah, who last saw his daughter Pervin when she left their home to walk to the factory where she and 3,600 others spent 10 hours a day stitching clothes.
"I have searched frantically. I have given DNA samples. I have given my phone number again and again at many different offices and to many different people, but no one has contacted me. I can't understand it," he said.
Authorities are not always sympathetic. BGMEA officials suggested that many claims were fraudulent. Mainuddin Khandakar, a senior home ministry official and author of a government report into the tragedy, blamed the victim's families.
"Even if there are some missing, that is because these are village people who are unclear about how they can properly trace [their relatives]," he said.
Most victims were young women from poverty-stricken rural areas who came to Dhaka in search of work. Their relatives are ill-equipped to tackle Bangladesh's tortuous bureaucracy.
Though his daughter had secondary education, Mollah is illiterate and relies on his remaining children to decipher official documents. But there are other explanations for his failure to find his daughter's body.
In the tragedy's aftermath, technicians at Bangladesh's only DNA testing laboratory, a small facility set up and funded by the German government, were only able to take samples from half the 324 unidentified bodies buried by a local NGO at Dhaka's Jurain cemetery. Without more samples "further answers cannot be found", said Sharif Akhteruzzaman, who runs the laboratory.
There is another possibility. In the post-collapse chaos, many bodies were misidentified and given to the wrong families, Akhteruzzaman said. "When we investigated one particular claim we looked at four samples and found three [of these four] bodies had been handed to the wrong relatives ... so you can understand how far misidentification is possible," he said.
Such confusion has led to rumours that the government secretly disposed of hundreds of bodies to conceal the true toll and limit compensation schemes.