An open letter to Bangladeshi youth | The Daily Star


You hold, in your anger and compassion, the ability to bend the arc of our future toward justice. PHOTO: SHEIKH MEHEDI MORSHED


You hold, in your anger and compassion, the ability to bend the arc of our future toward justice. PHOTO: SHEIKH MEHEDI MORSHED

In a few days, I will leave Bangladesh again. The first time I left, I left because I wanted to know more about the world and my place in it. A decade, a master’s degree and a humanitarian mission later, I know there is still a lot to learn.

You may be wondering who I am to write you a letter. In many ways, I’m no one special. I haven’t done much of a noteworthy thing, and I haven’t won any awards that you might know about. But I grew up here and I know what the rain feels like. I know the air and I know the dog that sits on the corner of my street. And so, maybe stupidly, I feel like I can write to you. But I have an ulterior motive, like all those who write.

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For the past 18 months, I have worked for an international agency engaged in the response to Rohingya refugees. I have been fortunate to learn from a community driven from their homes, and in their plight I have seen time and time again the urgency to fight for our collective future. My note to you is a request to think of those who are deprived of what you and I may take for granted.

Currently, 4,000 Rohingyas are stuck in “no man’s land” between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Although this is only a small percentage of the one million people who have taken refuge in Cox’s Bazar, these 4,000 humans are victims of the same armed aggression, state brutality and global inaction that defined generations of Rohingya experiences. In an increasingly fractured world, conflict remains the primary driver of human displacement and a reminder that things can shatter anytime, anywhere.

To make matters worse, when humans are forced to flee, they run into barbed wire and the blunt ends of guns. Wealthier states are the worst offenders, with pushbacks and incarcerations common in Europe and North America. Those lucky enough to find safety always face an uncertain future. The services, resources and compassion available to refugees vary widely and, despite great claims of equality, can often be attributed to skin color.

Climate change is short-circuiting this already faulty system. In northern Bangladesh, floodwaters showed no signs of receding for a month; in southern Iraq, rivers as old as civilization itself are drying up. This change, this radical change, acts both as a cause and as a correlate, precipitating and amplifying the need to move. We can’t stop this; we can only prepare for it.

What does this mean for Bangladesh, where one in seven people are expected to be displaced over the next few decades? One in seven people may be someone we know, someone we love, someone we are ready to take on the world for.

I am tormented by a question that has no easy answer: as waters rise, cities get richer and cities get poorer, how do we ensure that humans can move around to support themselves? needs and those of their families? How do you do it in a sustainable, but humane way, in an overpopulated and underfunded country? How to encourage the privileged to share the responsibility of the forgotten?

We are far from where we need to be. Everything that will decide the future is on hold: in Geneva, people wonder if climate migrants are refugees; in Sylhet, they already are. These definitions are important because they relate to responsibility and resources. Equally important, it is important to know who participates in these discussions – where they come from and what languages ​​they speak.

Everyone agrees that responsibilities should be shared, but no one agrees on how. Those who start wars and those who contribute disproportionately to climate change should theoretically bear more, but often this is not the case. We’re trying to hold those feet to the fire, but to paraphrase a colleague, we need more hands.

Bangladesh, despite the great inequality that plagues it, is aware of the existential threat to all that is dear to us. But Bangladesh – and dare I say the world – needs you. You hold, in your anger and compassion, the ability to bend the arc of our future toward justice. Your voices, in their unfiltered clarity and unbridled possibilities, can inform and influence those who have power over lives. Regardless of what others may tell you, you are able to inform. Anyone can read the theory – only a few live it.

And so, when you think your words aren’t strong enough, make them stronger. When your criticism doesn’t raise enough eyebrows, be more critical. Tell us, without restriction, about everything we do wrong – systemic change, local leadership, innovation and opportunity.

You don’t have to be a humanitarian to do this job. On the contrary, those who do this for a living need reminders from those who want to live. Movements live and die with those who support them with their time and energy, with their rage and joy, with their art, their words, their stories of what is at stake: the rain, the air, the dog in the around the corner we grew up in.

Imroul Islam is the outgoing Advocacy Officer for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Bangladesh.


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