Stateless refugees and the calculation of human worth: Daily Star contributor

DHAKA (THE DAILY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – We depend on oversimplified narratives to help us come to terms with our existence.

That we are the most developed living organism on Earth. That it is the result of a linear evolution from the most simple and insensitive single-celled amoeba to the intelligent and cultured beings that we are now. May this linear progress continue as societies become more advanced and sophisticated.

And we believe in our modern global political system of nation states. But we pledge our allegiance to our country and we feel compelled to be faithful to the sinuous lines that define it. We do not know how arbitrarily this boundary was drawn.

Admittedly, this border is an undeniable truth, an irreversible sleight of hand in history. But this simple, clean narrative of belonging grossly complicates our humanity. This leaves long, complex equations in a murky calculation determining which lives matter and how many.

It starts quite simply: ours above the rest. Our State will value its citizens, its language, its heritage, etc. above any other citizen, language or heritage. The dignity and rights of each person are protected by the State of which he is a citizen.

But no country is homogeneous, and nationalist sentiment must make choices and compromises. The constitution privileges all citizens regardless of the language they speak – but clearly positions Bengali as the state language, not Kokborok or Hajong (“Coke Studio Bangla” notwithstanding).

Then there are citizens whose ancestors are outright immigrants. Foreigners with a Bangladeshi passport. The value of this breed does not depend on any variable. Melanin, for example, appears to be inversely proportional to value. The level of exoticism of their origin is directly related to their value. If they speak the “enemy language”, Urdu, their value is automatically negative.

Then there is religion. Islam has a special place in our state and our constitution, and even that is a little awkward for anyone who is not a Muslim. But Muslims receive a lot of criticism elsewhere in the world. You add a little to one side of the equation, subtract a little to the other, and it all balances out, right? Positive humanity versus negative humanity. And let’s not forget money and influence. These are the most important determinants of a person’s worth.

Then there are… well, aliens. The ‘forcibly displaced’, rendered stateless by a genocidal regime, with no winding lines to safely call their own, thus constantly seeking temporary refuge within ours. What value do we place on their life, as opposed to our own? And how is this value calculated? And who is responsible for appreciating it? Should it be the “first come” country? But then what responsibility does the global community have?

Yes, the calculation of human worth gets super convoluted as soon as we start talking about stateless refugees. Take the Rohingya people, whom Bangladesh has been absorbing for decades. Many Rohingya who arrived as early as the 1970s have been naturalized.

And then there were those who crossed the border as they pleased – after all, it was only a river that had to be crossed – and who never bothered to do the paperwork. So now we have more variables in our equation: who arrived when, and who has what papers.

About Leah Albert

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