Bangaldeshi immigrants here and elsewhere.

There are, I am told about half million Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia today. New entrants have been barred after the Global economic downturn began to bite. Still everywhere you go , in Malaysia, Bangladeshis are seen working: in supermarkets , in the construction industry, as janitors, household help and a hundred other professions that do not attract Malaysians. There are also a fairly large number of Nepali immigrants who work mainly in the private security services.
I meet them mainly in the local Carrefour supermarket where I go for my weekly grocery shopping. There are boys from Comilla, Mymensingha, Jessore and every other part of Bangladesh. I like talking to them as we share a common language. I also like to know where they come from because the names evoke memories of my maternal grandparents and my mum’s stories of the lost East Bengal which was part of our country not so long ago.
Last week I spent some time chatting with two of them at the local supermarket. They were telling me how they came to be here.. Fairly well educated (both have high school certificates) they were enticed by an agent to come to Malaysia. They paid Taka 200.000 each to this enterprising fellow who promised them a high paying job , which , he said would enable them to pay off their debts in double quick time and send back large amounts of money home.
To this end they borrowed money from relatives and friends and have come here to Malaysia, which turned out to be less than the Promised Land that they had expected. I asked why, if they had taka 200,000 to spare, they did not go into business in Bangladesh on their own account. Their reply was straight forward. They said that the money was borrowed. Relatives were willing to lend money if you were going abroad, it was glamorous to go overseas, but they would never have lent money to set up a business.
Anyway once they were here, these two had been sent to work in Carrefour. They work 14 hours a day, they told me! I wonder whether there are no laws in the land for immigrants, or were the employers taking advantage of the fact that they were unlikely to know the law, or would be scared of being deported if they complained? The salary was much less than they had been led to expect and now the only hope was to work hard for a couple of years, earn enough to pay back the loan that they had sustained and then they would go back to Bangladesh, sadder but wiser men!
This last weekend was Bakr Id. I asked them whether they had thought of going back home for the Id. They laughed a trifle bitterly. If they went back for even a ten day break, they explained, they would be set back 6 months on their payment schedule, taking into account the airfares and expenses of the journey. They would stay put for the two or three years that they had calculated and then return home, once and for all. I felt sorry for them; I see my family once every six weeks and still feel very hard done by.
They were also relating their friends’ experiences in other parts of the world where Bangladeshis are now going to earn a living. West Asia, they said, was a torture chamber. They claimed that the employers there were racist. “They do not consider us as human beings,” I was told. In Italy, it was difficult to get a visa, but occasionally a student visa was obtainable! (I wondered what they claimed to study.) Once in, there is a Bangladeshi network that finds you a job and you can work there for good money. Only if you are caught you are thrown out. I know from experience that supermarkets in many Italian towns have Bangladeshi workers and in Venice and Pisa, a full 50 % of the souvenir vendors were from Bangladesh!
Finally they said, India was the best bet. They were treated well, paid the same as the locals and costs were low. If they left home again, they would go to India!! I did not know whether to feel proud or alarmed. There are about 10 million Bangladeshis in India already, if more of them come in, god only knows where they would be accommodated. But it was nice to know that there were many now who still looked upon India as the land of opportunity.

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