The London migrants moving back to Bangladesh

By Catrin Nye
BBC Asian Network

Media caption,
Ashraf Ali, who has lived in the UK for 17 years, talks about going back to Bangladesh

It is the ultimate insult to an immigrant: telling someone to go back to where they came from. But for some, with the economic climate in the UK looking increasingly uncertain, that is exactly what they are doing.

After 17 years in the UK, east Londoner Ashraf Ali decided to go "back home" to Bangladesh and BBC London followed his journey from Forest Gate to the busy streets of Dhaka.

At his suburban London home, Mr Ali said: "I'm excited... but friends have been shocked."

His wife Faria said: "Most of them have been negative; they've said he'll come back in no time and that he doesn't know what the reality of working in Bangladesh is."

Mr Ali, 34, a father to one-year-old Subhana, has a fairly typical story of migration. His father came to the UK in the 1960s as part of a wave of immigration from Asia but his family stayed behind.

Ashraf came to the UK permanently as a 16-year-old boy after years of holiday visits.

Like more than 90% of British Bangladeshis, he came from a region of Bangladesh called Sylhet.

At the age of 16, Mr Ali settled permanently in Forest Gate and, until leaving, he worked as an accountant in the City of London.

His wife was apprehensive about the move as she only came to the UK in 2007 and was happy to stay put.

She said: "To be honest my first reaction was confusion; I didn't want to go.

"I'm supporting him but I'm worried. Hopefully he will be fine but, because I've spent most of my life in Bangladesh, I know better than him how it works… or doesn't work."

But her husband feels the country has developed to a point that he can move back.

He weighed up the pros and cons: in Bangladesh Mr Ali and his family would be wealthy; he would have a bigger house, a better car and staff to look after most of his needs.

But for others life can be hard, with half the population living on less than a dollar a day.

'Catching up'

On arrival in Dhaka, Mr Ali was welcomed by his sister-in-law, Rumeen.

She is of Bengali heritage but was born in the UK, so moving "back" to her parents' home country was a shock.

"Initially we were coming back for two years, but now it's been 14," said Rumeen.

"I was 22 and had never lived here. To be honest it was very difficult and I used to cry.

"There were a lot of facilities we didn't have that I was used to, but at least now Bangladesh is catching up - Ashraf has come at the right time."

Image source, bbc
Image caption,
Bangladesh celebrates 40 years of independence on 16 December

Mr Ali has found work at a new office in an upmarket district of Dhaka. He said there have been some early changes to get used to at work.

"Everyone calls their superiors by 'sir'; I have 200 people calling me it every day.

"Every time I need something, before you even say anything three people are at my side asking what I want - it's nice but I'm more than happy to carry my own bag up the stairs."

The contrast between his new lifestyle and the scenes around the poorer parts of Dhaka is stark, and the gap between rich and poor has not been lost on Mr Ali.

He said: "Bangladesh is really comfortable, it's got all those good things, but only if you can afford it. If you are struggling financially then every day can be hell.

"The fact of the matter is that the masses here live below the poverty line and they don't even have the basics. So, when I come here I appreciate everything I have so much more."

The BBC's Asian Network is marking the 40th anniversary of Bangladeshi independence with a week-long series of special programmes.

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