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Dhaka Tribune

Why are so many Bangladeshis fleeing to Europe?

So far this year, the number of Bangladeshi arrivals into Europe has exceeded the combined number of those travelling from Syria and Afghanistan, and transit nations including Tunisia and Morocco

Update : 13 Aug 2021, 02:40 PM

Despite relative political stability, record-breaking economic growth and an increase in disposable income, more Bangladeshis have arrived in Europe this year than any other nationality, reports The Telegraph.

In the first six months, over 3,300 Bangladeshis had crossed the Mediterranean, mostly travelling via Libya, surpassing any other nationality for the first time since the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began documenting arrivals in 2015.

So far this year, the number of Bangladeshi arrivals into Europe has exceeded the combined number of those travelling from the conflict-ridden nations of Syria and Afghanistan, and also from transit nations including Tunisia and Morocco.

By 2021, Bangladeshis constituted the sixth-largest group of migrants worldwide, forming one of the largest populations by nationality in the UK, Italy and Greece.

Also Read - Rescue ship carrying 257 migrants including Bangladeshis docks in Sicily port

However, infamously labelled a “bottomless basket case” in 1972 by then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Bangladesh’s economy is now one of the world’s fastest-growing.

And, whilst the country’s government is accused of multiple human rights violations, it succeeded in allaying the threat posed by Islamic terror groups.

While India will see its gross domestic product (GDP) contract by 10.3% in 2020-21 due to the pandemic, Bangladesh’s GDP will rise by 3.8%, forecast the International Monetary Fund. Bangladesh’s previously stunted economy means it has long been a migrant-sending nation.

In search of fortune 

Amid such circumstances, the question appears: why are Bangladeshis taking such huge risks to reach Europe despite the massive danger of drowning in the Mediterranean?

Also Read - Red Crescent: At least 17 Bangladeshi migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

This year alone over 1,000 migrants have died or disappeared en route, with at least 60 Bangladeshis dying in July. Human trafficking and extortion are also rife with some speculating that climate change could be behind the migration. Few countries are considered as vulnerable as Bangladesh, where two-thirds of its 166 million citizens live less than five metres above sea level.

It is estimated that by 2050 one in every seven people in Bangladesh will have been displaced by climate change, largely due to tidal flooding caused by sea level rise.

Already, several thousand displaced people are said to be arriving in Dhaka every day from Bangladesh’s remote, rural areas. Many are citing the changing environment as their reason for migrating.

But, experts say this climate-driven movement is currently limited to domestic migration, as these typically poorer Bangladeshis can not afford to send themselves and their families abroad.

Also Read - Tunisia rescues 264 Bangladeshi migrants adrift in Mediterranean Sea

Shariful Islam Hasan, the programme head for migration at BRAC, suggests economic factors are still driving international migration.

The majority of those travelling to Europe are economic migrants aged between 30 and 35 who travel via Libya – where ongoing conflict means its borders are porous – in pursuit of better-paid jobs, he said.

Organisations like BRAC are now urging the Bangladeshi government to explore bilateral deals with European countries, so that its nationals can migrate legally and fill existing labour shortages.

“More awareness is needed among Bangladeshis looking to migrate, they need to be aware of the case studies where it goes wrong. And, Europe and Bangladesh should be working together to identify traffickers, we shouldn’t be playing a blame game” said Shariful. 

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