Ground Realities : Our citizens abroad harassed, hounded and humiliated written by Syed Badrul Ahsan

Ground Realities : Our citizens abroad harassed, hounded and humiliated written by Syed Badrul Ahsan

POLICEMEN in Saudi Arabia have been tearing up work-related documents of Bangladeshi migrant workers in that country. And they have been doing that without any thought to the predicament such action can and will cause to these hapless people. That is impunity of the highest order, especially when you think of the sheer high-handedness of people who are unwilling to abide by norms, by the general standards of civilised behaviour we expect from governments everywhere. And then there are the many instances in which Bengali workers have been and are being mistreated in Malaysia, with really no one to speak up for them.

You could now fall back on the cliché of informing us that the problem has really to do with the state of our economy. After all, a nation that ekes out a bare existence and cannot do without the remittances of its citizens slaving away from dawn to dusk in foreign lands must pay the price for its poverty. That is the argument, albeit a spurious one, you can make as a way of explaining away the misery that has been descending on our people in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and other places around the globe.

We do not buy that argument, because it is a spurious one. Now, when you consider what has been happening to Bengalis in Saudi Arabia, you will agree that some of them may have been working on fake visas or on documents the validity of which has expired. If the Saudi authorities had told us that such has, indeed, been the reality and that they are cracking down on the law-breakers among Bengali workers, we would have stayed quiet. But that is not what has been happening. We were told not long ago that Bengalis are engaging in criminal activities, which is why the law is being applied to them. Are we to suppose that all of our citizens have suddenly turned to criminality in Saudi Arabia?

While you deal with that question, turn your gaze on the manifestly crude behaviour that the authorities of the host country have been demonstrating toward these workers. These workers are being herded up and carried off to deportation camps, from where they will be put on flights back home. And what is not being done by the police is ensuring the provision of an opportunity for these poor, helpless individuals to come up with documentary evidence that they are a peaceful lot engaged in lawful employment, that they have employers who can speak for them.

But nothing of this has made sense for the authorities in Saudi Arabia. We understand that our adviser for foreign affairs has been soliciting the chance of a trip to Saudi Arabia for quite sometime, without the Saudis making any response. So much for diplomatic niceties on the part of the Riyadh authorities. But that is not really the point. The point is simply this, in the form of a question: to what extent has our Foreign Office taken up the issue of the mistreatment of Bengali workers in Saudi Arabia? You can expand that query to include the misery Bengalis have been experiencing in Malaysia, South Korea and other places.

In circumstances where your own nationals are made the target of ridicule and outright humiliation (as in Saudi police tearing up the documents of your workers), it is expected that your government will, as they say, rise to the occasion and come forth to demand an explanation from those busily going about harassing your people. There is something of self-esteem that matters in life, for the individual as also for the society or nation he is part of. In these past few decades, or so it appears, the dignity or self-esteem of this nation has been on a slide. And who do we blame for it? Let it suffice for now to suggest that had we had the confidence, had we been supremely self-assured about our place in the global scheme of things, matters would not have come to this pass for us.

Recall the old days, when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman brushed aside King Faisal’s questions about the dismemberment of Pakistan (and that was in 1973) with the indifference, even contempt, it deserved. He told off Nigeria’s Yakubu Gowon when the latter mused aloud about a weakened Pakistan after 1971. And then there was Tajuddin Ahmed, to keep us anchored to the thought that we had it in us to climb the peaks without the assistance of those who had done everything they could to prevent our rise as a free nation. Abdus Samad Azad and Kamal Hossain, as the earliest of our foreign ministers, strode across the world stage letting everyone know we had arrived.

But that is all in the past. Things do not happen that way any more. With so many of our pre-eminent citizens regularly and happily agreeing to be guests of the Saudi government, on hajj or umrah, something of dignity appears to get compromised. With all that chunk of money coming in as remittances from the Middle East and the Far East, to say nothing of the various forms of dole we have by now become accustomed to, we are not sure if we should raise our collective voice against the patently obtuse behaviour of others toward our people.

With so many among us eager to get our hands on camel meat coming from the desert kingdom every year on Eid-ul-Adha, there is a distinctive slicing away of our self-respect. And that is not all. Here in the country, the freedom and sometimes arrogance with which representatives of the donor agencies often upbraid our government and our politicians about what we need to do to improve (?) the quality of our lives leave us all outraged. And they do that because we give these people the opportunity to proffer advice we can do without. Why must our media people, for no credible reason, ask a foreign diplomat what he thinks of the next elections or of the level of corruption in the country? What is it in us, in our administration, that makes us believe a visiting junior official from a developed nation merits meetings with everyone who matters in the Bangladesh government hierarchy?

The fault, Sir (with apologies to Shakespeare and Brutus), is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are thus laid low. This business of our harassed citizens in Saudi Arabia calls for a firm response from the Foreign Office. We are not aware of the Saudi ambassador here being summoned to Shegun Bagicha to be informed of our sense of outrage. And we are still in the dark about the way our High Commission in Kuala Lumpur has handled, or not handled at all, the matter of our exploited migrant workers there.

Foreign policy is much more than a mouthful of platitudes. It encompasses areas where the interests of your nation are constantly monitored and endlessly upheld, and not just abroad. Here, within the country, it becomes the responsibility of the administration to inquire into the pretty serious matter of whether or not certain foreign governments, through their diplomats, may be energetically engaged in spurring our indigenous communalist fringes into action against such enlightened moves as equal rights for women and demands for a trial of the war criminals of 1971. You know, you just might strike gold, or ferret out the truth.

Is our diplomatic structure morally strong enough and intellectually self-assured to do the job?

Syed Badrul Ahsan is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star. | Link posted by Boduzzaman Khan | original source

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