x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Survival of Al Ain crash victims' families rests in their hands

'We sent my brother abroad to help feed the family. I really don't want to work as a labourer but if I have to I will,' says Bangladeshi bank clerk.

Mohammed Jahangir Alam, the elder brother of Mohammed Bohran Uddin, outside the bank in Anwara where he works as a clerk. Silvia Razgova / The National
Mohammed Jahangir Alam, the elder brother of Mohammed Bohran Uddin, outside the bank in Anwara where he works as a clerk. Silvia Razgova / The National

ANWARA, BANGLADESH // Mohammed Jahangir Alam's days in the village are numbered.

His brother, Mohammed Bohran Uddin, was among the 19 Bangladeshis who died in the Al Ain road crash on February 4. In his place, it will fall to Mr Alam to become the family's primary earner.

He makes just 5,400 taka (Dh250) a month as a bank clerk, barely enough to feed himself and his parents.

"We sent my brother abroad to help feed the family," he said. "I stayed behind to look after my parents. I really don't want to work as a labourer but if I have to, I will."

Mr Alam is the family's only high-school graduate. But now, like millions of Bangladeshis, he will leave the country to earn a living.

"Our hope lies in Jahangir now," said Anwara Begum, Mr Alam's mother. "If he does not find work in the Middle East, I don't know how we will survive."

Bangladesh's economy has struggled to keep pace with its growing population. Farming, still done largely by hand, has failed to generate enough jobs - each year about 1.5 million young people enter the job market, but there are fewer than 500,000 new jobs.

The result is that 40 per cent of the country's 150 million people live below the poverty line.

Since the mid-1970s, they have increasingly sought their fortune abroad. About 6.7 million Bangladeshis now work overseas, sending home US$2.4billion (Dh8.8bn) in more than 140 countries last year alone.

"Unskilled labourers have no other means of employment here," said Indrajit Kundu, a professor of sociology at the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh. "The land holdings for families is small and does not generate enough income. They have no other option other than to migrate."

The money goes a long way in the villages, helping families pay for health care and education, and to buy land, build homes, and purchase cars. Some start small businesses or buy more land holdings, creating a retirement plan.

"Even if they are labourers there, their families' lives run well here," said Zahedul Hassan, a teacher at a primary school in Fatickchari county, where four of the men were buried.

The Middle East's familiar culture and common religion make it particularly hospitable, which, says Mr Kundu, creates a chain of migration in which one worker goes to a country, and then finds jobs there for other members of his family.

The concentrating effect is powerful. More than two-thirds of the Bangladeshis who went abroad in the first half of last year went to the Middle East, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training of Bangladesh - and, said the Bangladeshi Embassy in Abu Dhabi, a million of its citizens live and work in the UAE, mostly in informal employment.

Many of the families that lost sons and brothers in last week's crash will now try to use that chain to make up for the loss of their breadwinner, sending other male relatives to take the place of those who died.

In the case of Mohammed Ala Uddin, 41, who was among the dead, his younger brother Nizam, 35, will be sent to the Middle East to work. He is a carpenter by tradition.

"They will now pool their resources to send him abroad so he can become a pillar of support," said Mohammed Habibullah Babar, commissioner of the Fatickchari district council, one of the several areas that buried their dead on Sunday.

Not all the families are so fortunate. Arif Uddin, 22, died leaving behind an ailing grandfather and his divorced mother - and no male relatives of working age.

"There is no one to take his place," said Mr Babar. "The mother's only hope is the compensation she will receive."