Rashedul isn’t typical of the men who leave Bangladesh for Singapore in search of wealth and fortune, and he would be the first to acknowledge that himself.
He was in the middle of completing his bachelors degree in English literature at Jagganath University in Dhaka when, following his father’s advice, he left home to find work in Singapore. “My father sent me here for my security first. I thought I could come here, earn some money and wait for the political crisis [in Bangladesh] to end,” he says.
It seems like quite a long time ago now.
Rashedul’s two-year stay in Singapore has been defined by two setbacks — both covered by TWC2 in previous postings: the first, a case of illegal deployment which saw him wrongly arrested earlier this year, and the second – a serious hammer attack to the head while pursuing a brothel owner who had recruited and exploited a fellow migrant worker.
But now Singapore’s authorities have closed Rashedul’s case and he has to head home. He says he is looking forward to leaving, but he is returning to a much bleaker Bangladesh than the one he left behind. “My country is facing a lot of political struggles now, it’s not a good time to be going home,” he says.
On top of the ongoing political turmoil his father suffered a stroke while he was away and is now paralysed; so Rashedul will assume duties as a care-giver.
His story could have been very different though — the hammer attack he suffered in Geylang landed him in hospital and could easily have led to his death. That case is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
The Special Pass which Rashedul was placed on prohibits migrant workers from working while their cases are being investigated by the Ministry of Manpower; the time spent waiting is measured by the months and sometimes years and it’s near impossible to make ends meet.
While on a Special Pass, however, Rashedul has been volunteering to support his fellow migrant workers; among his many roles he’s worked on stories for the local Bangla Kantha newspaper; he’s done translation work for journalists about migrant workers cases, broadcasters and researchers too; he’s also MCed events at the Dibashram centre for migrant workers in Little India, and has chased the odd Bangladeshi ‘gangsta’.
“There are guys here betraying their fellow countrymen,” he says, “the agents are taking advantage of them.”
His smile betrays a deep sense of disappointment at the way migrant workers get mistreated by employers and then get stuck in the Singapore government’s backlog of cases. Of the Singapore authorities, he says they have little knowledge of what happens beneath the ‘surface’ of the various industries that use migrant labour.
“They know what’s going on on the surface, but between the surface and the bottom, there’s a very big gap,” he says.
Rashdul has assisted me with more than a dozen interviews for TWC2, diligently and thoughtfully relaying the concerns and grief of workers with the patience of a saint.
I ask him where he’ll go from here and he smiles. I suggest journalism as a possible career option: the contacts he’s established in the Singapore-Bangla community are extensive; he has been involved in many stories behind the scenes, battling to find out details and to clarify facts.
If I could trade my journalism course for the experience he has accrued while waiting for Singapore’s authorities to address his case, I’d have picked his experience seven days a week.
But none of this will matter once he faces the realities of home life. “I go back with much more pressure than before. My father is very ill, I have to study and I have to find a job,” he says.
On top of this, as is usually the case, he hasn’t yet told his family that he’s returning without money. “They still think that I’m earning money here and that I’ll be returning to set up a business,” he says.
I ask him what he would tell a Bangladeshi man about to embark on the trip to Singapore to find work. His answer is unequivocal. “I would talk to him and tell him not to go,” he says. “I would tell him it is place full of hardship and suffering; I’d tell him to look for chances and job opportunities at home, which will come up if the government takes the necessary steps to develop the country.”
I hope that is not misplaced optimism. I have bucketloads of sympathy for the men we chat to about their struggles and hardships in Singapore, because a lot of them are helpless in the face of Singapore’s bureaucracy.
But with Rashedul, it’s a bit different. Singapore hasn’t been very kind to him, but he doesn’t need my sympathy. He’ll be just fine.
Rashedul received most of the outstanding amounts he was owed by his employer and his case at MOM was closed. The hammer attack, for which he lodged a police case, is still unresolved. Rashedul flew home on 14 December 2012.