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Migration and Development: The Case of Bangladesh

Bangladesh has a long history of migration. The ancestors of the Sinhala population of Sri Lanka are believed to have migrated there centuries ago, from the territory that now constitutes Bangladesh. In the 18th century, when the British developed the tea industry in north-east Bengal, they brought indenture labours from different parts of India. Again when colonial policies destroyed Bengals jute and cotton industries and the market for fine muslin collapsed, there followed large scale migration of Bengalies to Asam.
Migration to industrialized countries, particularly in the West, was again connected to the country’s colonial past. During the 18th and early 19th century, sailors originating from the south-eastern part of east Bengal found jobs in the British merchant navy, which carried goods from Kolkata port to all parts of the world. A section of landless peasants from a district in northern Sylhet, devoid of work opportunities, were absorbed in the dockyards of Hooghly, near Kolkata. Some also joined the British merchant navy. This group did not have much seafaring experience and jumped ship when the opportunity arose. They found themselves in a number of countries including the USA and the UK. This people are considered pioneer migrants in the West. Most of this migrants have long term residents, some adopted citizenships of their countries of destination.

After independence in 1971, new opportunities for international migration emerged. With rising oil prices, the middle-eastern countries went through phase of major infrastructure development. For this they needed large numbers of expatriate workers. Various categories of Bangladeshi workers joined the middle-eastern labour market. Gradually, such migration also expanded to the newly industrialized countries of south-east Asia. The nature of such migration was qualitatively different from migration to the West. These migrants went on short term employment, with specific job contracts, and had to return home on completion of their contract.