Expatriate Life: Blessing or Curse?

Ashim Chakraborty

Ashim Chakraborty

PhD Researcher at Anglia Ruskin University

A couple of years ago a picture of some Rohingya refugees went viral across the social media network. Leaving behind the deep sea, sea-storm and rain, a group of homeless Rohingya people were floating on a boat and looking for a refuge. It was raining and one of them was fervently begging for a shelter for his kids. Bangladesh did not offer enough to accommodate those Rohingya refugees in her land.

Rohingya is an ethnic group of people who used to live in the Bangladesh and Burmese border area named Arakan. A hundred years ago the ancestors of Rohingya’s left the Bangladesh side of the border and went further into inland Burma. Unfortunately to this day, Burma has denied them their rights as core citizens, therefore Rohingyas are facing both racial and religious oppression since they moved into Burma.

Meanwhile, after a nine-month long war against Pakistani armed force, our previous generation reclaimed the land they shared with Rohingyas . Though physical structure, religion and skin tone are very similar, still Rohingyas are not considered as Bangladeshi, so there remains a stigma of geographical and cultural difference, spanning a few hundred years.

After last week’s EU referendum, I was carefully observing the socio-economic climate in the UK, in terms of immediate reaction. Lots of instances of racial hate crime went viral across the social media network and news sites.

More than a hundred incidents of racial abuse and hate crime have been reported since the UK voted to leave the European Union.

Many of the alleged perpetrators cited the decision to leave the EU explicitly by way of justification.
One video, purportedly filmed in Hackney on the morning after the referendum, shows a man arguing with someone in a car before yelling: “Go back to your country.”

Another video filmed in Manchester showed a teenager throwing beer at an immigrant’s face and saying “get off the tram otherwise I will waste you” ; others showed extreme right British nationalists demonstrating in front of the mosques, looting of polish shops and many other similar incidents.
‘UK police call emergency meetings after explosion in hate crimes following Brexit’, ‘PM David Cameron throws money at police after 60% rise in hate crime after Brexit vote’ – these are the kind of headlines that we’re seeing now.

For a brighter future and better career opportunity, I flew to the UK, the gracious land of equal opportunity and diversity. I was working for different companies, and came across people from many different ethnic backgrounds, including clients and colleagues. I never faced any uncomfortable situation or instances of racial prejudice or discrimination in UK since I came here. I found all of my British colleagues were very welcoming and friendly; some of them are now my best friends.

After 10 years of living in the UK, last week I found myself in a no man’s land. I was feeling very isolated and unwanted. No, I did not get personally victimised, neither hate crime has reached epidemic levels in UK yet, still an indescribable feeling of anxiety seemed to grip me. For the first time I felt like a hopeless expatriate singing that song: “Lord I’m one, Lord I’m two, Lord I’m three, Lord I’m four, Lord I’m five hundred miles away from home”…..This is not a feeling sensed by the UK immigrants only, but also by all immigrants across the globe; the only difference is in the location and scenario.

A proverb says an expatriate man never gets back to his own land in his lifetime. I found this phrase very appropriate for me too. Like other immigrants, probably my next generation will grow up in the UK and will have little connection with Bangladesh, but who can say about the generation after? A million Bangladeshi immigrants are in the same situation across the world.

In this modern world, humanism is still not cultivated enough. People are still killing each other for a lot of meaningless reasons. Although we like to proclaim that we can conquer issues like racism, xenophobia, discrimination and hatred through the spirit of modern civilisation, humanism, secularism and diversity; doubts remain. In some instances we are maybe quite successful in this regard; but the hate crimes which took place after the referendum in the UK remind us what a long way we still have to go towards achieving true spirits of humanism, secularism and diversity in this society.

Most of you may say “oh its nothing compared to what’s happening in Asian countries.” Yes I agree. It’s nothing compared to situations in Asian countries; but such outbreaks of ugly racial prejudice are all the more shocking for taking place in a country which likes to model itself as a leading example of humanity, secularism, diversity and equal opportunity across the globe.

Watching all the hate crime and racial abuse which occurred after Brexit, I found myself identifying with the Rohingya’s situation. The way the world politics is moving towards the extreme right, with figureheads like Donald trump, Nigel Faraz and Narendro Modi becoming increasingly more powerful, who knows? Probably after hundred years my next generation will face the same situation that the Rohingyas are facing today. If it unfolds in that way, will Bangladesh offer them safe shelter, or refuse to accept them for the sort of racist reasons we’re seeing today?

Image: by Dimuth Perera.


PhD Researcher at Anglia Ruskin University.