Prologue: Shortly before midnight on Friday, 5th September, 2014, Rubel Ahmed, a 26-year-old man from Bangladesh, passed away at Morton Hall immigration detention centre, Lincolnshire, England. The exact circumstances surround Rubel’s death are still a mystery – British authorities have stated that the cause of death was suicide, but those closest to Rubel remain unconvinced, with reports suggesting that Rubel was complaining of chest pains in the hours before his death. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman is still investigating. British authorities have not detailed why Rubel had been detained. The following piece was originally published in Bangladesh’s largest national Bengali newspaper, Daily Prothom-Alo, on 10 September,2014 – Brett Elmer, Publishing Editor.
Author: Faruk Wasif*
Translated by: Asadullahil Galib
Dhaka, 20 September 2014 (Alochonaa): Rubel, a Bangladeshi youth, an outsider in Britain, wanted to build a better life in the UK. Instead he is now dead. His death was lonely, within the walls of the Morton Hall immigration detention centre. There were many detainees near him when he died, but none were able to help or comfort him. No one was around him to hold his hand, to say all was going to be okay. Rubel died as an outcast, unwanted in the UK.
His death reminds me of that of the main character in Albert Camus’ novel “The Outsider.” The protagonist wanted a lively environment at the time of his death. In some ways, everyone wants that. No one wants to die alone. They want to see affection. Perhaps it was not so quiet during the death of 26 year-old Rubel. Afterall, he was surrounded by inmates. But, they were segregated in separate cells. So Rubel’s inmates did not have the opportunity to take care of a dying Rubel. Those in custody as illegal immigrants are prisoners and have limited mobility. All they could do was listen to Rubel crying out for help.
In the end, Rubel died alone. We now know that he died due to chest pains. But we don’t know whether he was tortured or not. He begged for help for nearly an hour, tearing at the railings of his tiny cell. But no help came. Meanwhile, his mother in Sylhet, Bangladesh, was waiting for him. She was waiting for her son to return home, safe and sound.
The British Home Office said that Rubel committed suicide. But Rubel’s co-prisoners refuted that statement. They told The Guardian they heard Rubel crying out for help for about an hour – from 8:30pm to 9:30pm. The ambulance did not arrive until after 11pm. By this time the story of Rubel had ended.
Then, new stories began. The executives of Morton Hall didn’t even inform Rubel’s lawyer about his unusual death. Other prisoners gave the news. It was the story of the day when Rubel surrendered to death. The next day when the gates were opened, prisoners protested against his unusual death. They complained about the inhuman lifestyle within custody. Guards failed to control the situation. The riot police were called in. By this time the news had reached the British media, Bengali daily UK Bengali reported. The Bangladeshi embassy remained quiet throughout.
Rubel came to London five years ago in search of a better life. This is a fundamental right of all human beings. The right to live. But coming to London was also his failing. Rubel had applied to remain in Britain. The application is still pending. Last year, police arrested Rubel at a restaurant. Coming to the wrong place at the wrong time was his biggest mistake.
It was not necessary for Lord Robert Clive to have a visa to do business while on Bengali land. The British who stayed till the Empire’s last day on the Indian subcontinent didn’t have visas, either. It would not have been possible for Columbus to “find” America if he had required a visa and passport. That was a time when your feet were your passport and its validity never expired. But, today we live in a time when it is profit and capital which cross borders freely. Alas, it is no longer possible for humans.
At the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Commission, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, ended his speech with a plea for the rights of immigrants. He asserted that human rights are not only for valid citizens or those who hold valid visas. Every citizen has rights, whether he or she is legal or illegal in that land. Instead, under the guise of “law enforcement,” the harassment of illegal immigrants is increasing. Immigrants have lost their rights. Everyday, people just like Rubel are facing this type of inhuman situation. This year, two Africans have died while in British custody. Some twenty thousand have perished in the Mediterranean Sea. The death of Bangladeshi immigrants at the Indian border, in the Bay of Bengal, from Malaysia to Singapore to Arabia is all too common nowadays.
The British government recently arranged for some “anti-immigrant” trucks to patrol London. The local human rights organizations protested it instantly. The British government was forced to stop such a heinous activity. But the immigration laws themselves remain. Under these laws, immigrants are treated as criminals. They are being arrested like criminals. Year after year, they live an inhuman life devoid of appropriate legal procedures. Every year, some 1,500 immigrants commit suicide whilst in custody due to severe frustration. In addition, around 85% of prisoners suffer from mental disorders. Last year, the British government arrested 30,000 immigrants.
The main reason for immigration is global discrimination. Once upon a time, developed countries became part of the British Empire. Their resources were taken, drained to a faraway destination. Naturally, the people also wanted to follow their resources. For this reason, immigration is called the opposite of colonialism. For instance, Britain and France could not develop, could not function, without the resources from colonised Asia, Africa, and South America. Now the economies of these countries are dependent on the labour of immigrants. Recently a minister from Italy acknowledged this.
Without immigrants, who will do the low wage work? The economy of Europe, with its decreasing youth population, will suffer if the male and female workers from third world countries do not do their low paid jobs. But, racism prevents immigrants from doing these jobs. Their wages are decreased and rights demolished because of immigration laws.
The president of Malta recently said, “How many lives must be lost for this situation to change? The laws must be changed. The present laws have errors, you must change them. Otherwise the borders will fill with the graves of immigrants.” We support him because this is the true scenario.
The dead body of Rubel will return to Bangladesh just as the dead bodies of 15,000 immigrants have over the last five years. According to the law, the British Home Office will investigate. But it won’t save the life of the next Rubel. Because the error lies in the anti-immigrant system. To rewrite the laws, countries that are the sources of immigrants, like Bangladesh, must attempt to strike a bargain. Our labour, your jobs. In this way, both parties equally benefit, and in doing so, immigrants without visas can be given more hope.
The Bangladeshi government is the government for all Bangladeshis around the world. The government who remains quiet on the agonizing deaths of its citizens, is this a good government? Those who cried for Rubels’ death were not Bangladeshis. They were people from other countries. If foreigners do care, why does our government not take the necessary steps to claim the human rights of its citizens? In his final moments, was Rubel thinking, hoping, that his country would save him?
One Rubel has died, but there are still other Rubels seeking help.
*Faruk Wasif is a journalist and columnist for Bangladesh’s largest national Bengali newspaper Daily Prothom-Alo. This was originally published in Bangla and the original version is available here: http://www.prothom-alo.com/opinion/article/314875/মৃত্যুর-আগে-দেশকে-কী-বলেছিল-রুবেল
**Asadullahil Galib is a student of Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology, Dhaka, Bangladesh and the President of the Rotaract Club, Mahanagar, Dhaka. Asadullahil is doing his final year of Bachelor in Industrial Production Engineering in Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology, Bangladesh. He is an International Exchange Alumnus. Currently he is working as the Tunza Eco-Generation Regional Ambassador to Bangladesh.
***Alochonaa.com thanks Mr. Nazmus Saquib , a graduate student of the New York University for coordinating this translation task.
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