Best Years of My Life Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia

The Book

Cover and an inner page of the book

“That single hope, to change one's destiny, is what ties all migrants together"

Fishing boats carry migrants across the sea, crossing over in moonlight

Home

Abul Hossain in his village in Comilla
Abul Hossain with his mother and his wife Amena Akter in Comilla
Halima Akter (left) and Amena Akter in their kitchen making pitha (rice cakes) in winter. Both their husbands work in Malaysia
Abdul Halim is a local dalal who had arranged for Abul's visit to Maldives.

Abroad

Building site in Ampang where Abul Hossain works
Before I left Malaysia, Abul Hossain brought over a gift (300 ringgit and a mobile phone) for his mother. His younger brother Kamal collects it in Dhaka
Bangladeshi migrant workers work on Eid Day at Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur

Life in the Plantations

Tea plantation in Cameron HIghlands in Malaysia. It is a popular tourist spot, but few of the
Belal Hossain was an undocumented worker. He has since become a successful small time businessman. Cameron HIghlands. Malaysia
Dato' Kesav Kumar Agarwal at the head office of Bharat Tea Estate in Cameron Highlands. They have been regularly hiring Bangladeshi workers and Dato Agarwal says, if he had the choice he would employ 100% Bangladeshis.
Clouds descend on the hills in Cameron HIghlands, but workers rarely have the time to appreciate the beauty.
Belal Hossain took me to a hilltop to see downtown Cameron HIghlands
Masud Rana's home (extreme left) is cold throughout the year and they burn firewood to keep themselves warm
Malaysian workers in the same plantation live in much better conditions
Homes of migrant workers
Plantation workers like little ants on the hillsides in Cameron Highland
Child worker and Masud Rana spraying pesticides in Cameron HIghlands. The boy gets 400 ringitt a month. They don't use gloves or masks. Many workers develop health problems.
Masud Rana showers in spring water. "Out here, there is only one law, the word of the owner."
Men and women pray together during Eid at Masjid Negara in Kuala Lumpur. While migrants are exposed to such practices, generally, more conservative habits are brought back home.
A H Rashid (Harun) who is also known as the 'Helicopter Contractor' by the Benggali (sic) Mosque of which he is a caretaker
Clockwise from top left: Bangladeshi workers playing chess after work outside Green Leaves restaurant at Titiwangsa. Kuala Lumpur; Class barriers, entrenched in Bangladeshi society, is often broken overseas. A household help is served in the same queue as wealthy Bangladeshis at a cultural evening in Kajang, outside Kuala Lumpur; Bangladeshi culture night at Kajang, Selangor; Class barriers, entrenched in Bangladeshi society, is often broken overseas. A household help is served in the same queue as wealthy Bangladeshis at a cultural evening in Kajang, outside Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia

The Sunny Side of Life

Getting pretty before the party begins

A budding photographer

Recording the good times

Bangladeshi and Malaysian wives taking selfies together

The Journey

Waiting at Shahjalal International Airport, Dhaka

At the departure lounge, waiting to board the flight

New sneakers (often 2nd hand) and fresh haircuts are common amongst first time migrants

Changing money at Shahjalal International Airport

The Workers

Migration has allowed Sahanaz Parben to place her son in an elite cadet college, normally the domain of the well-to-do. She’s bought property in Bangladesh, and when she goes back she hopes to set up on her own.
Razia Sultana worked at Top Glove, but lost her job and went back home. She is back in Malaysia, where she set up a tailor shop in Klang.
Md. Joshim, a Bangladeshi migrant, at pedestrian bridge near Pasar Seni LRT station.
Babu Biswas is a moira (maker of traditional Bangla sweets) at Bismillah Store in Bengali Market in Kuala Lumpur. He is also a poet
Weary my feet, heavy steps with toil, Forlorn far shores, lonely and in foil, Age creeps along, strength ebbing nigh, Moving on is a chore, my ends I defy.
This defeat that I carry, how much longer will I pine, This endurance that is mine, it is God's will divine, Faces familiar, now so far away, Home, forgotten, leafy boughs no longer sway.
The heart says enough, this exile must end, The home that awaits you, misery will mend, My love awaits me, my footsteps she pines, To you I'll return, this land will never be mine.
Nazrul Islam at his fruit shop in Pudu Sentral, Kuala Lumpur
Nazrul Islam (right) and three other Bangladeshi migrants live in this room in Sunbow Hotel Residency. Together they pay 750 ringgit a month.

The Success Stories

While he is a senior manager, Shaheen Sardar (left) has no qualms about getting into his overalls and getting under a machine with a wrench. A very different work culture from what is practiced in class conscious Bangladesh. Rashed (right), like Shaheen, was an undocumented worker. He now runs two travel agencies, one near Chinatown
Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia develop skills on the job, as this worker in a galvanising factory in Subang Jaya.

The Decision Makers

Tun Dato' Seri Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad is a Malaysian politician who was the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, making him longest-serving holder of that office. He initiated the government to government transfer of migrant workers from Bangladesh to Malaysia.
Dato’ Seri, Md. Abu Hanif Bin Md. Abul Kashem is relaxed in his luxurious home in Klang. His Malaysian wife Datin Nur Firzanah Binti Abdullah, a management professional with a PhD is the managing director of the WJP Group (Warisan Juara Padu (SDN) BHD.
Major Ramasamy Menon, a retired army officer and his wife Vejaletchimie Chinnayah own VG Metal Technology Sdn Bhd. They have an excellent rapport with the workers. The couple with the workers on the factory floor.
Major Ramasamy Menon, a retired army officer and his wife Vejaletchimie Chinnayah own VG Metal Technology Sdn Bhd. They have an excellent rapport with the workers. Major Rama with his favourite worker, Bashirul. Major Rama hires his workers through Dato Seri Hanif's company
Md. Shahidul Islam, the Bangladeshi High Commissioner to Malaysia, openly admits that his embassy is incapable of serving the large number of migrant workers that flock his office. Dalal's (middlemen) often end up exploiting the workers.

The Activists

Aegile Fernandez (left) and Glorene A Das of Tanaganita, and NGO that campaigns for the rights of migrant workers.
Glorene Das, migrant rights activist and executive director of Tanaganita

The Future

When does this child with a balloon start realising that her life as a migrant will be different from that of other children?

The exhibition in Dhaka

The exhibition in Berlin

Created By
Shahidul Alam
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