Propaganda adds cachet to the European dream
The death of 58 people, who were part of the 150 heading for the European mainland, from Gambia shows once more the enduring allure of the European dream.
Despite people dying and scores coming back with horrific experiences, the desire to go to a first-world country to catch the life of milk and honey, remains undiminished.
The latest disaster was off the coast of Mauritania, but thankfully, many swam ashore as the boat capsized about 25km from land. Several international news agencies have said that most are safe but utterly demoralized.
Such scenes of people coming back empty-handed while trying to reach a European nation are also very common in Bangladesh where the “go abroad and become wealthy” concept still has the capability to indoctrinate millions of young people.
Accidents involving such people have become regular news, though images of the ordeal, aired via TV channels, hardly work to dampen the spirit of the young who seem to harbour the notion that it rains dollars in developed nations.
Overseas money-honey concept
To find the reason as to why many educated young still feel that life in a developed nation is far better in terms of lifestyle, payment, and security, one has to go back to the turbulent period of the 80s when the country was united to bring down an autocrat. In that social and political movement against a dictator, the worst victim was our university education which became clogged in session jams.
In such a scenario, the trend among the middle and upper-middle class families in the country was to send their children to the US to study.
It was a time when radicalism, Islamophobia, and zealotry were still used within limited spheres and those who went to the US to study could easily stay back, obtaining employment.
From the thousands that went at that time, very few came back and those who remained in the states soon got their passports and citizenship. It’s their tales of an America with luxury, comfort, and economic stability that fuelled (read reinforced) the concept of life in a first-world country in Bangladesh.
After 9/11, the interest moved away from the States and veered towards other countries like Australia, Canada, the UK, and other European nations. Success of a few overshadowed the countless others who either failed to remain in these countries or were deported.
The gambling instinct
There has been a drive recently against illegal casinos in the country and especially sports clubs, which were leased by people to run all kinds of gambling operations. However, the biggest gamble people in Bangladesh take is trying one’s luck in a foreign country. Without proper homework or assessment of the economic conditions of the country of choice, young people give thousands of dollars to brokers.
Brokers or dalals know that repeated tales of prosperity and opulence showered on a person will eventually do the trick. The same old system is being used for decades with a little change here, some disingenuous additions there.
What one finds puzzling is that even at a time when Bangladesh is making so much progress and employment is possible in countless areas, there is such a frenzy among the young to go abroad.
With the introduction of app-based ride-sharing systems, more ways of income have opened but for some reason, the lure of the foreign land remains.
Although majority of the European countries are in recession or struggling to come out of economic woes, the common feeling among many educated Bangladeshis is that once you end up there, some work opportunity will pop up.
Again, it’s the gambling instinct at play here. The potency of “what if” is such that brokers don’t have to do much. When people come to the trap willingly, they are only too happy to roll out their deceptive spiel.
The challenge to change outlook
For too long, people in Bangladesh have propagated that whatever one does abroad is better than staying in the country. Hence the oft repeated line: Deshe thaika ki hoibo?
This is why, getting the visa of a developed country is deemed a great success. At one time, the mere fact that a man had a US visa in his passport was good enough to get him a stunning wife. I am not wrong in saying that, even now, “I live in the US or Canada” is regarded as a profession to be proud of.
Saying that one lives in a first-world country automatically translates into the belief that s/he must be earning loads. I have come across many cases where a groom’s identity is related by relatives with the line: “Chele toh US thake!” (the groom lives in the US).
That’s it, no more questions asked about what he does in the States. He may be washing dishes, or living in a small room with eight others -- but that’s irrelevant.
The truth about the world’s current state needs to be publicized. This is the age of the internet, so the young with aspirations to reach El Dorado need to come down to earth first and get the facts right about nations.
Instead of weaving dreams under the stars, the economic, social, and political facts of a country need to be assessed in the cold light of day.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.