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“From bearing my medical expenses to regularly checking in on me as one of their own – IOM remained by my side even when my brother and family had turned away.”
Before tragedy befell Moharaj, he had travelled to the Middle East in the hope of a better life for his family like thousands of other Bangladeshi migrant workers. He first went to Saudi Arabia in 1996 and worked there for 12 years. He returned to Tangail after he had earned enough to provide for his family and to start a business in Bangladesh. But his luck ran out and a series of misfortunes - including broken marriages, hard-earned savings lost to betrayals, dangerous re-migration, the horrors of modern slavery, an ailing daughter, and a serious accident - befell him. He had a couple of failed marriages. Heartbroken, he decided to go to Dubai in 2015, and contacted a middleman. He worked as a manual labourer there, working long hours in harsh conditions, and was forced to return to Bangladesh due to a family dispute. In search of a better future, he soon went to Iraq hoping to go to Italy. Once again, this was facilitated through middlemen who smuggled him into Syria along with other migrants before sending them off to Italy. In 2016, Moharaj boarded an overloaded Greece-bound rubber boat from Syria, with nearly a hundred refugees.
When a despondent Moharaj was stuck in an unknown refugee camp on an island in Greece, he discovered that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was willing to support his return to his motherland. Little did he know that in the next few years upon his return, IOM would become a crucial part of his life. When Moharaj nearly lost a leg after his speeding autorickshaw overturned and collided into a bridge. The accident shattered his thigh bone and left him permanently disabled. IOM extended necessary support for him through the Prottasha project. “From bearing my medical expenses to regularly checking in on me as one of their own – IOM remained by my side even when my brother and family had turned away,” he said gratefully. Prottasha generously gave monetary, strategic and emotional support, which helped rekindle hope in Moharaj and his family. He received in-kind and medical support worth more than BDT 100,000. Prottasha also helped him acquire a disability card which made him eligible for food support from the government.
Fatema, his present wife, has supported him all along. Her care and support never wavered, it kept Moharaj and their eldest daughter Maria alive during their darkest days. Maria became critically ill –at the same time as Moharaj’s accident. Maria is now recovering. Their youngest daughter Mahiya is a little fashionista who never misses an opportunity to flaunt her lovely frocks. Oblivious to the hardship her father went through, her playfulness and enjoyment breathe life into the family.
Moharaj has made good use of the assistance and financial literacy training offered by Prottasha, and now runs a tea store successfully. His earnings support his family of five. His son, Jubayer, often lends him a helping hand in running the business.
Moharaj’s tea store is in the heart of the mohalla, it is more of a social hub than a mere store and attracts customers all day long. At night, it brightens up an otherwise mundane landscape. Moharaj has become a figure of hope for all the unfortunate migrants returning empty-handed and traumatized from distant foreign lands, which had once lured them with hope and possibilities. For many, he is Prottasha (hope) personified.
The story is written by Md Sariful Islam, National Communications Officer, IOM Bangladesh.