To understand the trends of migration happening in Bangladesh there needs to be some degree of understanding of history of Bangladesh or, to be specific, about the land it is situated at. From the early days of human civilisation, Bangladesh has been prime destination of various influx of migration and more significantly the invasion of regional dynasties or empire. More recently, colonial powers from Europe has left big scar on the land and people. Indo-Aryan, who are majority of demographic, is believed to have arrived between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago with Hindu religion. The artefacts discovered during expeditions suggest that Bangladesh was a flourishing, sophisticated civilisation for very early times.
The modern outlook (culture) of Bangladesh was strongly influenced by the Moghul dynasty when they conquered the territory in the 16th century, which resulted in mass conversion from Hinduism and Buddhism to Islam. As of now 89.1% Bangladeshi people follow Islam.[ ] After the weakening of Moghul dynasty, European imperialists such as Portuguese, Armenians, French and British started to arrive to Bangladesh. They forced the dynasty to establish their European military and trade outposts. The end of Moghul dynasty came in 1757 when British force won against the local army by corrupting the general and they ruled Bangladesh or the whole subcontinent for the next 190 years under the name of British Raj. The long excruciating period as colony has a huge impact on the current migration trend of Bangladesh, or South Asian nations in general.
In 1947, British Raj was finally given independence creating 2 states we know now as Pakistan and India. Pakistan consisted of West Pakistan and East Bengal and Sylhet (at the time it was part of Assam). It was called East Bengal because West Bengal existed in India which was a Hindu majority state therefore the idea British diplomats had in their mind was that divide the colony into Hindu and Muslim sector. This concept has resulted to a peculiar geographic country where a nation is divided by 1600 kilometres. East Bengal was quickly renamed as East Pakistan.
From the beginning, East Pakistan was plagued by obstacles. Especially when West Pakistan dominated the resource and became richer and more powerful though their population was smaller. Even though, majority of foreign reserve was acquired by East Pakistan, close to entirety of the capital was invested in West Pakistan. Political control was always is West Pakistan and which resulted in making official language of Pakistan Urdu which caused huge revolt in East Bengal and lead to massacre of protester which was one of the important moments that leads to independence.
There are 3 instrumental reasons why a war ignited between West Pakistan and East Bengal. First, they tried to strip Bengali language from Bengali people as they thought it was not Islamic enough, but Bengali people dearly held to their values. Secondly, there were devastating cyclones in 1970 which flooded 2/3 of Bangladesh but West Pakistan did not send adequate level fund were sent to concerned areas. Thirdly when Pakistan held the first democratic election, Bengali representative from Awami League (Political party from East Bengal) won but West Pakistan vetoed it and executed martial law which lead to breakout of the agonizing war. Two days before gaining victory from Pakistan in 1971, Pakistan Army has made a list which included most of the prominent and influential intellectuals of Bangladesh, many of them internationally recognized, and they have abducted them and ruthlessly killed them. This was done because Pakistan knew destroying infrastructure was not enough to cripple a nation thus they decided to finish the intellectuals, so the nation would not be able stand by itself. Bangladesh lost entire generation of intellectuals which were supposed to be pillars of national development. Pakistanis called this the Operation Search Light.[ ] Which showed by how 50% Bangladesh population was still poverty in 1990’s. It has been said that 3,000,000 people has been killed and 400,000 women and children were raped.[ ][ ] Turn and twists of nation’s faith has hugely influenced the migration of Bangladeshi people.
Bangladesh’s history can be considered as history of migration. Bengali people have been wandering in the delta region for centuries. Surge of labour migration (contemporary) days back to colonial times. In past few years, around 500,000 Bangladeshis leave their country to work in a foreign nations.[ ] As large number of people leave the nation, the remittance to Bangladesh has become huge source of income for the government. Migration trends of Bangladesh cannot be defined in a single concept as it has one of the most diverse and unique diasporas, providing insights into number of migration theories that we learned in the courses. This essay will examine various types migration happening in Bangladesh and then will be selecting the most applicable theory based on my understanding from the course.
Migration of Bangladeshis to the United Kingdom can be said as an age-old tradition. According to Tulshi Kumar Das, more than 2.1% of total population living in London are Bengali descendant. More than half of that is comprised of people from Sylhet, which is northern district of Bangladesh. Sylhetis first arrive to Britain as sailors (lascars – word used to describe South Asian sailors) through the 18th and 19th century, but few of them decided to settle in the UK as there was not many Bangladeshi women therefore they could not find marriage options. Large scale Bangladeshi migration into the United Kingdom is a more modern phenomenon relative to that of other South Asian communities.
Current Bangladeshi demographic in the United Kingdom are the consequence of large scale migration in the 1950s and the 1960s, again from the Sylhet region of Bangladesh. This happened after the Second World War; United Kingdom experienced extreme labour shortages and therefore began to attract labour migrants of the Commonwealth states and it was optimal opportunity for Bangladeshis. This is because, before the liberation war with Pakistan, people wanted to flee from the civil unrest in their homeland, and undoubtedly looked for an improved life in Britain. People who arrived in during that time settled in the East London, which is the same location where immigrants of Jewish people from Eastern Europe escaping persecution of Nazi Germany and Austria in the 1930s. Bangladeshi people especially men, at the beginning, found low skilled labour work such as steel and textile mills all around England, but when these industries fallen because of international competition, they started to construct small businesses such as restaurant and small super markets. This trend of creating restaurants of South Asian cuisine restaurants was followed by Pakistani and Indian communities which has led to profound influence. This can be seen how one of British national food has become Chicken Tika Masala. Corner stone of Sylhetis Bangladeshi impact on British culture is from Sake Dean Mahomet who migrated in 1810 and is credited for London’s first Indian restaurant called Hindoostane Coffee House. [ ]
The graph above shows change in the population throughout the years. At first glimpse is increasing exponential manner but if you look carefully how much it is changing based on previous year the biggest leap was done in 1961 to 1971 as it multiplied almost 4 times. The halt of flow of Bangladeshi migrants to United Kingdom happened when Immigration Act of 1971 was passed in parliament and subsequently in 1972, they imposed innumerable restrictions. Under the new law, only wives and children under 16 years old were able to join their father or husband. Therefore, after 1970s, migrants from Bangladesh has become family base which has incidentally rose the amount of fake marriages.
The kind of migration is perhaps best explained by historical-structural theory. As Bangladesh was colony of Britain it was greatly scarred by the ill practices of them which prioritized the benefit of own nation therefore people Bangladesh was compromised of traditional economical structure and tradition life style thus forced to look for wealthy countries that rely on cheap labour, so they can benefit. It is absolutely clear that Bangladesh and Britain do not hold equal economic or political power therefore as the theory the suggests migrants tend to move wealthier nation. One counter argument to applying this theory in this context is that historical-structural assumes that rich becomes richer as they are essential exploiting cheap labour but because Bangladeshi people has huge amount of remittance thus there is withdrawals from the English economy and greatly uprooting Bangladeshi economy. That being said, I believe historical-structural theory best describes the Bangladeshi migration to United Kingdom.
Internal migration has become both a primary concern for the lawmakers and other invested parties resulting into an important public debate in Bangladesh. It has been perceived as both beneficiary and unfavourable in the perspective of national developmental. Internal migration is the one of the essential parts in an economic expansion and modernization but at the same times causes damages the traditional rural life. This dilemma is not an uncommon experience for a nation undergoing a rapid process of socioeconomic transition – from a subsistence level agrarian economy to a middle income, industrialized economy. Without the concern of the policy makers in their mind, enormous amount of people has migrated from rural or suburban areas to urban areas, particularly Dhaka and Chottogram (formerly called Chittagong), as they wish to escape from poverty for a better life for their family. Dhaka is the capital city of Bangladesh thus it naturally attracts companies to construct factories around the area for logistical reasons. If people are not too savvy about geography of South Asia then they might not heard of Chottogram but this the port city of Bangladesh, equivalent to Yokohama of Japan, where all the cargos go through and as result second biggest city in Bangladesh.
According to the research of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the internal migration rate has risen from 3.3% in 1991 and 4.5% in 2001 to 6.7% in 2012. This cross checks with Bangladesh’s first nation-wide census which showed that only 15% of total population lived in cities but currently that number has more than doubled and is at 36.5%.[ ] These findings suggest that there is a positive correlation between urbanization of a nation and the rate of internal migration.
Multiple reasons, economic and non-economic factors, are identified to explain this phenomenon. Definitely, poor and middle-class people are attracted by the opportunities of higher wages in cities but equally at the same time, a diminishing average of land holdings, drawbacks of rural agricultural development, and population pressure are pushing rural people to dense and polluted concrete jungles. It also can be said that internal migration of Bangladesh are naturally done for ecological reasons as nation is frequently prone to various natural disasters such as cyclones, droughts and floods. On top of that social conventions such as that many people view city attractive and they could evade pressure of marriage from their relatives.
Previously, majority of the people moving from rural areas were young men. This has significantly changed recently because of hike in demand in the ready-made garment (RMG) industries in the metropolitan cities. As the work in RMG factories not physically intensive, the demand for female workers has increased. Injection of female in work palce has transformed economy of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is still considered as an agriculture-based economy, but now economy is shifting rapidly to RMG sector, which brings by far the most foreign currency to the nation. The sector contributes around 76 % to total export earnings. Around 4.2 million people are employed by the RMG sector and approximately 50 % are considered to be women from rural areas and remote villages. This has not only given women financially independent, but they are given a voice in the family because they some degree of financial contribution. Unfortunately, everything is not bright with RMG sector as it has led to the tragic circumstances because of industrial accidents and fires, labour rights violations, the capitalist mindset of factory owners, negligence of labour welfare, notably Rana Plaza incident.
As Dhaka is most densely populated city in the world, price of land is very expensive, forcing rural migrants to the outskirts of the cities. Most of them are involved in low paying economic activities such as rickshaw pullers, street vendors, construction workers, transport workers, garments workers and low-grade employees therefore cannot afford adequate housing. On top of that, rural migrants generally experience great degree of harassment at their respective workplace either from employers or police. Drastic positive and negative impacts of internal migration in Bangladesh makes assessing a difficult task. Benefits for the national economy and women’s rights and participation are obvious but it comes with a huge expense. Next few years is detrimental for raising the standards of welfare and labour rights, a more just allocation of new wealth, and more importantly developing a stable urban community.
Internal migration of Bangladesh is best explained by neoclassical migration theory because it sees migration theory as an important part of the entire development mechanism, where surplus of labour force in rural areas will naturally be attract urban industrial economy as it provided better wages. This model perfectly embodies the situation of Bangladesh as lack of opportunity in rural areas has resulted in large amount migration to urban areas where they provide work and better financial incentive. Harris and Todaro (1970) primary talks about international migration but it can be said that the sheer difference of rural and urban side of Bangladesh is comparable to international migration. As Bangladesh has 27 ethnic groups (independent sources count 45 of them), there is significant language barrier exists for some. A critique of this theory in this context is that it only focuses on economics side of person’s matter, it fails to answer common cases of people leaving rural areas to evade marriage or low-level politics.
Bangladeshis after their independence tried to leave the nation as Pakistan left it in a chaotic state. Their prime target was to leave for common wealth countries such England, Canada, and New Zealand but because of restrictive immigration policy many were not able to. As an alternative Middle East rose as the 1973 oil boom increased the demand for cheap labour which was perfect opportunity for Bangladeshis (see Figure 3). In 1976, there was only 6,000 Bangladeshis left to work at a foreign nation. But since then there was great increase thus resulting in 1.2 million Bangladeshis left the country between 1990 and 1995. Such trend continued, and out-migration increased to approximately three million between the years of 2005 and 2010.
Based on the findings of National Population and Housing Census, 2.8 million Bangladeshi household members were living abroad in 2011 which 95 percent of them were male. Interestingly, migrants are still identified as ‘household members’ and not ’emigrants’ which depicts the temporary nature of these labour diaspora. The study also shows how more than 500,000 migrant workers has arrived back at home between the years of 2006 and 2011 during the same time frame 3.5 million had departed the nation.
When United Arab Emirates implemented furthermore restrictions on male labour migrants in 2012, naturally the number of male Bangladeshi decreased rapidly but on the other hand amount of female labour migrants quadrupled. In different gulf states such as Oman and Qatar amount of both male and female migrants rapidly increased in recent years, thus became one of the key destinations of Bangladeshi immigrants.
Alongside the Gulf States, there are few other instrumental host countries for migrants such as Malaysia with 198,000 immigrants as well as the United States exceeding 128,000. This might be surprise for some people, but more than 631,000 Bangladeshis have been legally registered in India as a migrant.
Bangladeshi migrant workers regularly face excruciating working conditions and inhumane treatment. Vast majority of labour migrants from Bangladesh who departs for Gulf States are unskilled. Thus, male migrants are employed usually employed in construction industry and in low level business services, such as cleaning and driving. On the other hand, female migrants are given work as housemaids or cleaners in buildings and offices. Best part of the Bangladeshi migrants arrived at the Middle East with intermediary of recruitment agencies where they gain profit by selling labourer to interested party. For most cases, migrant has to pay the costs incurred by visas and workplace permits. The contracts the migrant workers are given are often in nature highly exploitative. For example, female migrants who work as domestic helpers often victim to sexual harassment and even in certain cases rape. Even though with such limitation many Bangladeshi migrants are still willing to pay the expensive payment to broker to suffer the inhumane labour conditions. This simply because the income they earn such places much higher than what they receive at Bangladesh.
This phenomenon could be best described by the migration theory of transnationalism. As world gets closer with development of technology, people do not have to have severe home sickness or fear of foreign nation as they can easily be able to connect with their families from farther way. The fact that it is easier remit money with emergence of international banking there is furthermore incentives to go around the world and earn much as you can rather than staying at the country do the same work for 1/3 of the wage.
Bangladesh has always has been the nation about migration. Prehistorically, it was about solely avoiding natural disaster, such sentiments are continuing but the focus has become more on the fact of earning maximum amount with owns potential regardless of work condition of home or host nation. With the only example of Bangladesh, I was able to demonstrate the usage of various migration theory therefore it shows the complexity of migration and its nature.
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