For 23 years, his family in Bangladesh thought he was dead, but then an anonymous caller informed a local official in May that he was alive and in jail in Pakistan.
On Tuesday, 52-year-old Moslemuddin Sarkar, who had been missing since 1989, returned home.
Pakistani officials freed him from the jail in Karachi on Monday night and immediately deported him.
Sarkar, bearded and sharp-eyed, but ravaged by fatigue, walked out of the concourse in Dhaka’s airport and was hugged tightly by his brother, Sekandar Ali.
“I can’t believe you are alive; you are back!” Ali said.
Sarkar remained silent, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Brother, let’s go home,” Ali said. “Mother is waiting for you.”
Sarkar had left home one morning in 1989 after a brief visit, telling his family he was returning to his job as a dock worker at Bangladesh’s main Chittagong Seaport. His family did not hear from him again until the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found him in the Karachi jail after the anonymous call.
After Sarkar’s disappearance, Ali visited the shipyard to search for him, but was told he had not returned to work.
“We waited for months, years, and finally thought he was no more,” Ali said. “Otherwise, why wouldn’t he inform us where he was?”
After his return, Sarkar was reluctant to explain what had happened to him and why he ended up in a jail in Pakistan.
“I crossed the border to India in 1989 and went to Delhi after staying a few months in the Indian states of Assam and Meghalaya. Later, I got married in Delhi, but I got caught along the India-Pakistan border when I tried to enter Pakistan in 1997,” he said. “I had no travel documents.”
“I served 15 years in jail,” he said, without giving any further explanation.
“Let me meet my mother first,” he said. “I will tell you everything later.”
Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations and often arrest and imprison each other’s citizens for lengthy periods for entering their territories.
After Sarkar’s family learned from the caller that he was alive and in Pakistan, they were at a loss what to do. They repeatedly called the phone number from which the anonymous call had come, but were told that it was not in use. Then they learned that the Red Cross helps trace missing people and seek their repatriation.
They contacted the ICRC’s Dhaka office, which informed its delegation in Pakistan. Within days it found that Sarkar was languishing in the Karachi jail.