Worried yet rallying for Bangladesh
The foreigner community in Bangladesh is diverse not only in country of origin but life situation. Some arrive to fill short-term contracts; for others Bangladesh is home. Regardless of circumstances, the Gulshan and Sholakia attacks give reason to reconsider their future address.
Chinese national Ying, employed in the education sector, has lived in Bangladesh for over a decade. She has a Bangladeshi family. “Bangladesh has problems,” she says, “poverty, poor infrastructure, corruption and a violent political culture; but there's steady progress and I'm happy to work for its development. The main attraction is its big-hearted people.”
She sees the recent attacks as indicative of a worldwide problem. “The security situation has worsened globally due to growing religious fanaticism,” she says.
Tim is an Australian who has also been here for over a decade and has a Bangladeshi family. “Rural Bangladeshis are the most wonderful people I've met,” he says. Tim likewise pinpoints worldwide security deterioration. “Governments everywhere are under huge pressure.”
British and American couple James and Lisa have called Dhaka home for just a few years. She works helping Bangladeshi businesses expand. They hoped to raise their children here.
“I don't think what makes Bangladesh captivating has changed,” says James. “Dhaka's organised chaos still enthrals. The vibrancy of the people and stunning rural beauty still leave me speechless.”
European-origin long-term resident John has a Bangladeshi family. “I've lived in this beautiful country since before some of those terrorists were born,” he says.
According to John, the Bangladeshis he employs are talented; which has helped him export services abroad, bringing foreign revenue to the country and working towards the faster integration of Bangladesh in the digital world.
“Until last year I've never been afraid,” says John, “Now it's hard to feel safe. It feels like danger can be around the corner, though locals don't always appreciate the change. It feels as if there are black skies only I can see.”
James says deteriorating security has changed his experience. “The markets where I once roamed are less inviting. On the street I find myself regularly glancing behind. I vary my routing and flinch at passing motorbikes. I want the old Bangladesh back.”
“Bangladesh is at a crossroads,” he continues. “Hopefully it'll choose the path of solidarity and peace; but I'm beginning to think the future is increased violence and the end of secularism.”
Tim no longer feels comfortable to wander. “I don't venture to remote places anymore,” he says. “I like to stay close to home where I'm known.”
Ying is more philosophical. “I'm cautious but believe in fate,” she says. “It's easy to be afraid. My love of living is stronger.”
All share concerns about the effectiveness of security. Some worry about low levels of general competence. They complain security checks in the diplomatic zone are lax with police at times asleep on the job.
There has been frustration about the government's delay and unwillingness to clearly state there is a problem. “I've heard many times there is no problem,” says James. “There is a problem, a big problem!”
However, admiration for the courage of the police who risked and sacrificed their lives during the recent attacks was unanimous.
“A few things need to happen,” says John. “There should be collaboration across political parties, better coordination between security agencies and enhanced international cooperation. Security checks should be sincere, while officers should deal with the public politely. There needs to be better social media analysis to identify potential attackers early.”
“Despite concerns, I want to praise security forces for effectively nabbing many ill-minded people before they did harm,” he adds. “They work with limited resources.”
“I hope that eventually days will return to normal, though with a bitter taste,” John reflects, having lost a friend in the Gulshan attack. “For now I'm cautious about what programmes I join. This insecurity will definitely cause many to leave and fewer to come.”
“The expat community is quite small and highly visible,” says James. “We make easy targets. The question is: What would you risk to get a coffee? I hope I don't become a prisoner in my apartment.”
“The government often dismisses our concerns,” says John, “They say attacks happen elsewhere. The government needs to understand that the foreign community is so small here and quality of life is actually quite limited. It's the unity among expats and the peace in Bangladesh that attracts us. If fear makes life suffocating very few foreigners will stay.”
It seems likely John and his family will leave. “We're lucky. We have a choice,” he says. “We can invest time somewhere more peaceful.”
“Holey Bakery is a monumental change,” says James. “It may prompt us to leave.”
Driven by his family's wishes, Tim won't consider leaving. “I'll stay,” he says, “but security has become a big problem.”
“If anything happens to me,” says Ying, “I want my family to know I had a nice life; that I chose Bangladesh. They will find it hard to accept, but that's how I feel.”
(Names have been changed. Those interviewed did not wish to be identified).