Sunday, December 13, 2009

Migrants’ tales – Mixed fortunes in the city

by: Carolin Braun

According to the UN, there are about 200 million people each year involved in migration. In many Asian countries, migration towards megacities or even to other countries and continents plays a major role in socio-economic development. As Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world, I wondered how people with the lowest incomes who choose to migrate deal with the challenges that migrants frequently face, such as the risk of homelessness, a lack of social networks, the temporary loss of resources and incomes, and difficult travel conditions. For this reason, I decided to have a closer look at the issue by talking to people inside slums in a city close to Dhaka, called Narangayanj.

(People are committing to different kinds of work every day to earn a living)

Part I: A tale of two migrations

An elderly lady in a sari receives us in her small house. Little light enters the tiny room enclosed by brick walls and scarce furniture. She invites us with a smile on her face to take a seat on her bed, while she stays sitting on the floor. A welcoming atmosphere surrounds us and diminishes the sorrowful impression of poverty that I initially felt.The wrinkles on Monoara Begum’s face give proof of what she has been through in her life. She was married for 31 years to her husband, who later divorced her and supports her with 20 Euros a month. During Bangladesh's War of Independence in 1971, she came to the slum as a young girl to join her future husband. Like many other citizens in the slum, she has had to find many ways of earning a living. Similar to her husband, she was at first engaged in day labor, being hired every morning again for minor jobs in the area. Initially she was working in the garment industry. Being somewhat better off, she later found a job as a maid close by. Finally, together with her husband, she tried to go abroad to the Middle East to search for a better life. This is a strategy adopted by many people in Bangladesh who seek informal paths of immigration as a golden opportunity to make the transition from poverty to relative wealth. They tried to escape with the help of a travel agent to ease their path into a better life. Their ambition to leave was cut short by a deceitful agent who stole their money. Without children, Monoara says she has no more plans to look for ways to improve her life. Though she is disappointed by how many things have turned out in her life, she seems to be content with the circumstances in which she is now living. The little money that she has left to maintain her being did not detain her from offering to serve us a meal, while smiling at me throughout our conversation. Facing the living conditions of the people in the slum, they seem to renounce the further search for better conditions, but are content with the improvements they achieved by moving to this area and accept their respective fate.