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Buying death with dollars

  • Published at 12:05 am November 4th, 2019
Migrant workers-Syed Zakir Hossain
Photo: SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

The grass is often not greener in foreign lands

The death of 39 people in a lorry in the UK is another testament to the desperation of people to end up in Europe to catch the much embellished life of milk and honey.

Though, initially, it was believed that the casualties were all Chinese Uighurs, examination and investigation revealed that most were from Vietnam.

Obviously, people trying to cross illegally to Europe from war-ravaged or politically unstable countries is understandable but why would people from an emerging nation take such a risk?

The same question can be put to many Bangladeshis, who pay around Tk10 lakh to get a passage to mainland Europe just because there is an unassailable belief among many that, once in Europe, life will radically change for the better.

Europe is wrapped in gold 

The blame goes to the highly exaggerated notion that life in Europe or many other first world countries is wrapped in gold. To find the roots to such a profoundly flawed concept, one needs to go back to the mid-1970s when the Middle Eastern labour market first opened for Bangladeshis. 

As a young nation, Bangladesh’s economy was still trying to overcome the devastation of the Liberation War, unemployment was high, and sources of income were divided into two categories: Government jobs and self-run businesses. 

The private sector was very small and could only accommodate a limited number of people. At such a time, when earning a livelihood was the major focus, the allure of earning dollars was often too enticing to ignore. 

The initial years actually saw a windfall for workers in the Gulf states because the salaries were hefty. Over time, people began going to Europe and only the success stories came out, to be propagated, inflated, and used as examples.

There is a tendency in society to either hush up the cases of those who came back empty-handed or simply ignore the ones who failed to strike gold abroad. Add to this the “foreign bug” which makes people unable to think rationally. 

Just after the tragic find of the dead in a lorry in the UK, a newspaper report alluding to AFP said that many young people are convinced by social media posts that life is infinitely better in European states.

The blame also lies on those who actually live and work in such countries, glossing over the real picture to float an idea of opulence, comfort, and security. 

Lest we forget, crime also exists in the best of nations: Stabbings, throwing acid on people who look like foreigners, racially motivated attacks, and killing sprees at schools, shopping malls, or places of worship have taken place in countries about which a lot of people in developing nations have unrealistic images bordering on perfection.

What’s the real picture? 

Blinded by pictures of glitz, razzmatazz, and swanky cars, the young get into a daze, leading to an overpowering obsession. Sadly, many educated and promising youths in Bangladesh do not read the news to get an idea about European nations which are still grappling with recession or recession-like conditions. 

Those which are seeing improvements are just out of a period of economic malaise; in most of these nations, unemployment among their own people is high -- with disaffection running quite high. 

These facts are never taken seriously since the common approach is: Once I am there, something will certainly pop up. 

Now, though such an optimistic attitude is healthy, positivity should never border on fantasy. 

In Bangladesh, there have been reported instances where people paid between $5,000 and $7,000 to get an illegal passage to Italy from Libya.

The feeling is that once someone lands on the European mainland, the suffering will be over. Nothing can be further from the truth since every month, people come back deported. 

In this futile process, money is lost to a broker and the young person is back with horrific experiences, if they are back alive that is. 

It’s inconceivable as to why someone is willing to take a risk with so much money when, with that same amount, a small business can be run. Judicious use of Tk10 lakh can ensure so many secure enterprises -- from mobile shop repairing, to small tea shops, to motorcycle fixing garages, to tyre selling and fixing outlets. 

We know this, yet there is the tendency to gamble. The desire to get rich quick is an inherent dream in all of us. 

The idea of buying a lottery to get a staggering amount thrills us all, though in case of pursuing the dream of “bidesh jamu” a little study of the actual socio-economic scenario of the country of dreams could save a lot of suffering. 

Those who come back from near-death experiences or after being swindled or mistreated hardly come up to share their stories, which is sad. These tales need to be told over and over because otherwise, the rose-tinted glasses will remain in place. 

Going overseas through the right channel and after gathering all the facts of the destination is fine. Taking a leap without thought is not. The grass is hardly greener on the other side.

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.