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There Is a Brutal Life Facing Millions of Immigrants Who Seek Opportunity Abroad

Shahidul Alam at Drik Gallery.
Photo Credit: Vijay Prashad

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2013.

It is past midnight. The aircraft come in from Saudi Arabia carrying workers who had been fast ejected. They had left from Ethiopia to work in a accumulation of jobs in a Kingdom flush with oil wealth. It is Dec 2013. Ethiopian migrant workers deplane from the aircraft. They lift plastic bags that hold their belongings. There are few signs that they have benefitted from their tough labor in Saudi Arabia. A few of the migrants walk down but shoes. The air is chilly. They must be cold in their shirts and pants, their feet on the tough ground.

What was the reason for their expulsion? The Saudi authorities pronounced that these were migrants who came into the country but papers. They had crossed the dangerous Gulf of Aden in precarious boats. Saudi Arabia welcomes these migrants, even those but documents, mostly since they – under compulsion – offer their services at very low rates of pay. At punctual intervals, the Saudi supervision goes after these undocumented workers, impediment them in public, throwing them in deportation camps in Riyadh and then shipping them home.


That was in 2013. Between Jun of 2017 and the finish of the year, the Saudi authorities incarcerated 250,000 foreigners and sent home 96,000 Ethiopians. When the Saudi supervision feels quite vicious, it carts the Ethiopians to the Saudi-Yemen limit and merely leaves them on the Yemeni side. Yemen, still inebriated almost daily by Saudi Arabia, is frequency the place to acquire unfortunate Ethiopians.

The periodic cycle of permitting undocumented workers into the country and then degrading them by this kind of open ejection maintains the workers in fear and allows the human traffickers and the employers to keep salary as low as possible. There is no one to complain to.

Why do the Ethiopians keep returning to Saudi Arabia? Ethiopia is a country in apocalyptic mercantile distress. Six to 9 million Ethiopians have indispensable food assist of one kind or another last year, as serious drought and misery have total to create a near-famine situation. Southeastern Ethiopia, from where many of the migrant workers come, has seen the drought destroy stock herds and revoke crop production. It is in this same area that Ethiopia hosts 894,000 refugees from Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. Those refugees come for reasons of craving and conflict. Last year alone, 106,000 refugees entered Ethiopia, many of them from South Sudan (whose adults now series 420,000 in Ethiopia). A country that hosts almost a million refugees – itself wracked by trouble – sends maybe a million to the Arabian Peninsula (there are half a million in Saudi Arabia itself). It is a cycle of refugees that now defines the planet.

I can’t get the miss of boots out of my mind. Ethiopian workers contend that they are mistreated customarily in Saudi Arabia – passionate assault against domestic workers, beatings of all workers, nuisance by the police. This has spin normal. It is the way we live now.

Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2018.

While in Dhaka, we visited the Drik Gallery III, where we saw the muster of photographs taken by Shahidul Alam of Bangladeshi migrants to Malaysia. The pictures are clear illustrations of the wish in the eyes of the migrants and the good clarity of disappointment, as life does not spin out as it was betrothed for many of them. Alam’s photography shines – his own personal care draws out emotions of good frankness from the men and women he photographs.

Alam gave me his book – The Best Years of My Life – which collects the pictures that we saw in the gallery, with a moving content that he wrote to accompany his photographs. The book traces the tour of Bangladeshi migrants – chasing a dream – to Malaysia’s factories and fields, where they work for low wages, get cheated by traffickers, by officials and by their peers. The captivate of assets to help their families at home leads the workers to scapegoat their own lives. Sahanaz Parben’s son (age 11) calls her aunty; he hardly knows her. Babu Biswas’s children have seen him quickly 3 times over the past decade. ‘They are doing well,’ he says.

The authorised standing of these migrants is mostly unclear. It is precisely their gossamer authorised standing that forces them to bid down the rate of wages. But the income of the ‘illegal’ migrant is not illegal. It is welcomed into Bangladesh. There are roughly 9 million Bangladeshi migrants (according to the World Bank). They send home $15 billion. Based on a five-year average, this amounts to 10% of Bangladesh’s Gross Domestic Product. This is not as high a commission as that of Liberia, where some-more than a entertain of its GDP comes from remittances from migrant workers. These economies would pulp but the tiny amounts of income from millions of workers that supplement up to vast amounts of unfamiliar sell for these countries. It is worth observant that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Bangladesh is merely 0.9% of its GDP. The remittance of migrant workers is of distant larger mercantile value than the FDI from unfamiliar banks and corporations.

And yet, as Alam finds, the supervision of Bangladesh is arrogant towards the migrant. The High Commissioner Mohammed Hafiz seems a good adequate man. But he has radically given up on his duties. ‘What can we do?’, he asks. The activists have it correctly. Parimala Narayanasamy of Coordination of Action Research on AID and Mobility (CARAM) tells Alam that ‘sending governments should come out clever to contend that if any country indispensable workers, then they – the promulgation countries – should set the terms and conditions.’ This is accurately what is not done, conjunction by the governments of Bangladesh nor of Ethiopia.

They provide the unfamiliar bankers and corporate executives like heroes. They provide their own nationals that send in distant larger amounts of income like criminals.’

At Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, we charge my phone. Two men come and ask to use my charger. They are off to the Gulf. we don’t have a horse that fits their phone. A lady comes to me, hands me her boarding pass and asks me when her moody gets into Abu Dhabi. She is to be picked up by her employer. The boarding pass does not have the time of arrival. She looks in her bag for her ticket. There is so little there. One of the men asks her if she has a charger. She does not. They grin at any other. They have so much in common. They will find a way to help any other. It is the way of these workers. They have themselves and their families. Everyone sees them as an inconvenience.


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