They are the Irish of Asia. The Rohingyas and the Bangladeshis leaving their homes remind me of the Irish, and to a less extent the Scots, who emigrated to England and the English-speaking colonies to escape poverty.
The Irish and the Scots, who also settled in Northern Ireland, rebuilt their lives in their new homes.
A question mark hangs over the Rohingyas and the Bangladeshis.
Nobody wants the wanna-be emigrants.
The Irish also faced discrimination. That’s why they rebelled against English rule. They had to struggle in America, too, like the Italians and later immigrants, whom they in turn looked down upon. Dennis Lehane’s sprawling novel, The Given Day, shows the racial prejudices that simmered in early 20th century Boston, a city with a large Irish population receiving new waves of immigrants from Europe.
No country, however, is prepared to receive the Rohingyas and Bangladeshis sailing perilous seas in leaky boats.
They are not only figuratively in the same boat but may have something more in common.
The Rohingyas don’t use the Bengali script, but the Rohingya language is similar to the Bengali dialect spoken in Chittagong in Bangladesh, according to Wikipedia.
Wikipedia says: “According to Rohingyas and some scholars, they are indigenous to Rakhine State while other historians claim that they migrated to Burma from Bengal primarily during the period of British rule in Burma,and to a lesser extent, after the Burmese independence in 1948 and Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.”
People have been crossing from Bangladesh to India and Burma for centuries. They were all part of the British empire.
Bengalis went to work in Burma, but started leaving during World War II.
Now the Rohingyas want to leave as well. And Burma says they don’t belong there at all.
That’s one difference with the Irish, perhaps. There are Irish ballads of longing for the old country such as this Lament of the Irish Emigrant who mourns for his wife:
I’m biddin’ you a long farewell,
My Mary—kind and true!
But I’ll not forget you, darling!
In the land I’m goin’ to;
They say there ‘s bread and work for all,
And the sun shines always there—
But I’ll not forget old Ireland,
Were it fifty times as fair!
And often in those grand old woods
I’ll sit, and shut my eyes,
And my heart will travel back again
To the place where Mary lies;
And I’ll think I see the little stile
Where we sat side by side:
And the springin’ corn, and the bright May morn,
When first you were my bride.
It was written by Helen Selina, Lady Dufferin (1807- 1867) — not the Lady Dufferin who was the wife of the Viceroy of India.
As for the Bangladeshi migrants, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called them “mentally sick” and accused them of tarnishing the country’s image.
India and Bangladesh have seen the largest exodus of people since 2010 followed by Pakistan and China, according to World Bank data. While immigrants have increased the population of countries like the United States and Singapore, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China has seen more emigrants than immigrants. The World Bank shows net migration figures, that is, the total number of immigrants less the annual number of emigrants. The figures for 2010 – 2014 are as follows, with the countries’ estimated populations in brackets. The population estimates are also from the World Bank.
|United States||5,000,002||(316.1 million)|
Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are included here because the boat people have been sailing to those countries. Indonesia is a land of emigrants, too, and doesn’t want the boat people.
India has seen waves of refugees from what was East Pakistan, and is now Bangladesh, since the end of British rule in 1947. First came Bengali Hindus after communal violence and then Bengali Muslims driven by poverty.
Now there are Bangladeshis everywhere, at every level, from industrious workers to successful professionals. I remember reading Monica Ali’s Brick Lane about Bangladeshis in Britain.
Who knows what will happen to the boat people? Bangladesh, a land of rivers, has traditional boatmen’s songs. The song that comes to my mind, however, is Ol’ Man River.
Ah gits weary an’ sick o’ tryin’
Ah’m tired o livin’ an’ skeered o’ dyin’
But ol’ man river
He jes’ keeps rollin’ along!
The song was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein III, both descended from Jewish immigrants.