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The Best Years of My Life-photographs and words by Shahidul Alam

Embracing the Reality of Migration


Migration offered an opportunity to change their lives. It was risky, uncertain and certainly hard, but it was a risk they were prepared to take. The absence of choice, made the choice simple. Abdul Malek had dreams that his sister would get married, his father would buy a plot of land, maybe he’d set up a shop when he went back. They were distant dreams, but dreams he wasn’t prepared to let go.


Travelling with migrants from Dhaka to Kuala Lumpur, following them in Malaysia, from the palm fields in Johor Bahru to the mass graves in Perlis. I visited their homes, and shared home-cooked food. I visited their families back in Bangladesh.


Through in-depth interviews and meetings with a full range of players along the value chain, I tried to understand what created the pull and the thrust that made their migration, their exploitation, and their occasional prosperity, a possibility.


Migration is a complex phenomenon, and each story is different, but by observing it close up, from so many different perspectives, has allowed me to go beyond the quantitative world of statistics and numbers, and see the more human aspect of fears, perceptions and hopes.


In the end, each one of us is a migrant of sorts. It is only when the migrant stops being the other, and we embrace the reality of migration, taking on board all the joys and trepidations that they face, that we shall build the open society, that beckons us. It is as much about facing our own fears and prejudices. About letting go of our internal demons. About accepting that agency and ambition, so celebrated in the West, is a common attribute. It is about believing that this planet is for us all. For us and our children’s children, to be shared to the full.


Shahidul Alam

Photographer and Writer, Drik Picture Library Ltd.






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