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Climate Migrant Resettlement in Bangladesh: FLAS Fellow Farrah Hasan Reflects on Summer Fieldwork

December 15, 2023

Farrah Hasan is a second-year Master’s student at the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs and 2023-24 FLAS fellow in Advanced Bangla. In summer 2023, she undertook fieldwork in Mongla, Bangladesh to conduct research as part of her Master’s thesis, interviewing climate-induced and non-climate induced migrants regarding their quality of life, as well as NGOs and political officials on their plans and barriers in providing services and establishing resilient infrastructure. Her thesis is titled “Adapting Destination Cities: Climate Migrant Resettlement in Mongla, BD.”

The auto rickshaw finally comes to a stop, and I step into the sun-steeped afternoon. My research assistant hurries to a group of women gathered in front of a tin roof house. One of them excitedly asks, “So where’s the American girl?” With a timid smile, I introduce myself. They smile wide and lead me inside. It was my first day on the field, in this small Bangladeshi town, meeting with a climate migrant focus group. Me, my assistant, and seven women. Some crowd on the bed, and a few stand by the doorframe. I open with simple questions, “Where is your village? When did you come to Mongla?” They become increasingly engaged as the questions progress, rushing to share their stories. I frantically scribble notes, but I stop when one of them says, “People die without water. How will we survive here?” I meet her eyes, feeling both awe and sadness by how simply she said it. I don’t lift my pen for the rest of the afternoon.

Farrah interviewing a climate-induced migrant in Mongla

I was a college junior when I first learned about climate migration, and I couldn’t put my pen down. I joined qualitative research projects based in both my hometown and my motherland, and I listened to every interview. I heard a man say climate gentrification was like the Trail of Tears, being marched from his Miami neighborhood to some unknown place. I heard a woman from coastal Bangladesh recount the day she lost her baby to a flood. They will never know me, but their voices still ring in my ears. I was too moved to choose a path other than qualitative research. After being on the field, I doubt there will be another cause I am so consumed by, a narrative I so deeply want to be part of.

I would not have been able to connect so deeply to the people of Bangladesh had it not been for FLAS. Before beginning Bangla at UW, I couldn’t even read the script, and now, I’m able to scan and translate my Bangla transcripts with ease. Professor Nandini Abedin was extremely helpful in preparing me for the field; we went over a few environmental readings in class so I would be familiar with climate lexicon. She also helped me revise my interview protocol for clarity and contextual language. Even when my interviews went off script, studying Bangla has given me the confidence to be engaged without a translator. On a personal level, I was also able to bond with my family in Dhaka on a much deeper level; we were able to discuss religion, travel, ambitions. My relationships have undergone a permanent and beautiful change, even with the oceans separating me from my family, the new substantive nature of our phone calls will keep us close.

Farrah meeting family in Sylhet.

That first day on the field, the focus group reminded me why I was there, and why I had to return. About ten minutes in, I was sweating. Two women hovered over me with fans. I laughed awkwardly, “They warned me I wasn’t ready for summer in your district. They were right.” They joined in my laughter, and a woman on the bed said, “And still you came!” In that moment, we weren’t interviewer and interviewee. We were strangers in a tin-roofed refuge with seeping July heat, sharing a language and a laugh. When they first saw me, it was unclear where the American girl was. In an alternate lifetime, with fewer strokes of luck in my ancestry, my village too could have been lost to a river, and I could have been among them. FLAS has provided the opportunity to connect with migrants myself, propelling a career of personal significance and thoughtful engagement; for this, I am beyond grateful.