Cablegate: Bangladesh Diaspora Engagement

DE RUEHKA #0919/01 2670922
P 240922Z SEP 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 86401

1. (SBU) Mission Dhaka welcomes reftel initiative and opportunities
for further connections with the Bangladeshi diaspora in the United
States. We already engage with Bangladeshi-Americans in a number of
areas, but there is wide scope for expanded interaction. Our
experience is that the Bangladeshi diaspora in the United States is
a vibrant and active, though currently somewhat fragmented, group.

2. (SBU) Our responses to reftel questions follow:

A) To what extent are diasporans from your host country an
identifiable community? Are there existing diaspora networks,
organizations or online communities available as platforms for

Non-Resident Bangladeshis form easily identifiable communities in
the United States and elsewhere outside the country. Bangladeshis
(along with Bengalis from India's West Bengal State) have a strong
sense of ethnic identity, based on language and culture. There are
strong Bangladeshi and Bengali networks on line and elsewhere.
Within North America, the Federation of Bangladeshi Associations of
North America (FOBANA) holds annual conferences that are
opportunities to bring together the diaspora groups. The Bengali
associations often include both individuals of Indian and
Bangladeshi origin. The Bangladeshi community in the United States
is growing rapidly, as witnessed by the growth in immigrant visas
issued by Embassy Dhaka's consular section.

B) What is the nature of the connection of the diaspora community to
the host country? Examples include kinship networks; educational or
other institutional ties; financial support as from remittances; and
direct participation in community or country affairs and civil

The Bangladeshi diaspora community retains strong ties to
Bangladesh. Bangladesh has become increasingly dependent on
remittances from expatriate workers, and the United States is
currently the second largest single-country source of remittances
(over $1 billion/year). Many Bangladeshis who emigrate return home
for marriage (or for the marriage of their children), send money to
family members left at home, sponsor others for immigration, and set
up businesses in their home areas. This is particularly strong in
specific areas of Bangladesh, e.g., Sylhet Division in northeastern
Bangladesh. Bangladesh's major political parties all have overseas
branches, including within the United States. These overseas party
branches sponsor visits and gatherings by political leaders from

C) To what extent has your host country or government activated its
diaspora communities for humanitarian relief? How would you
characterize the level of response? If outreach is relatively
recent, do you foresee opportunities to maintain diaspora community
involvement in country over the long term?

The Bangladesh Government has not systematically engaged the
diaspora community in humanitarian relief efforts. The initiative
for relief activities comes from the diaspora community groups, who
often contribute via a relief fund set up by the Prime Minister or
Army Chief. Following the November 2007 Category 5 Cyclone SIDR
that affected southwest Bangladesh, the diaspora community provided
significant relief. For example, Bangladeshis in the State of
Michigan provided over $100,000 in cyclone relief to the then-Chief
Adviser's relief fund. During the Caretaker Government period, the
GOB attempted to mobilize the Non-Resident Bangladeshi community in
part to break the hold of the political parties over diaspora
political activities. The GOB indirectly sponsored a NRB Conference
in Dhaka in late 2007. The Bangladeshi Embassy in Washington and
Consulates in the United States maintain close ties with diaspora
community groups.

D) To what extent is the diaspora community engaged in long-term
investment in country, for example micro-enterprise development, job
creation, entrepreneurship, and institutional capacity building?
What is post's assessment of the future potential for long-term and
sustained engagement of the diaspora community in such efforts?

A number of Bangladesh-Americans have attempted to become involved
in economic/commercial activities at home. One group of
Bangladeshi-Americans established a venture capital firm in 2007.
Another returned to Bangladesh to form an investment company. In
many cases, Bangladeshis educated in the U.S. and elsewhere return
to Bangladesh to become involved in family businesses. A number of
younger Bangladeshi Americans have returned to Bangladesh for short
internships with NGOs such as Grameen Bank and BRAC. There is
tremendous potential to expand upon these initial attempts.

DHAKA 00000919 002 OF 003

E) To what extent is the diaspora community working toward
scientific, engineering, medical and educational institution
building? How might diasporans with backgrounds in these fields or
otherwise affiliated with the Academy, or professional and technical
societies, become engaged in science diplomacy programs?

A number of Bangladeshi-American academics remain interested in
developments at home and travel frequently for exchanges. They are
active in the Fulbright and other U.S. scholarship programs. Two
prominent Bangladeshi academic organizations in the U.S., the
Bangladesh Development Initiative and the Democracy and Development
in Bangladesh Forum, have sponsored a Conference on Bangladesh at
Harvard University in 2008 and 2009. The growth of private
universities in Bangladesh has opened up new opportunities for
exchanges in higher education. A number of professors and
administrators of these private universities were educated or worked
in the United States or Europe. The Grameen Bank has also embarked
upon a pioneering health project which will provide other
opportunities for linkages with the U.S.

F) To what extent is the diaspora community engaged in conflict
resolution and peace building? Do you see future potential to
translate diaspora community participation in these processes into
other priorities governing the bilateral (and/or regional)

There has not been much involvement in peace building activities in
Bangladesh. (See answer to question H for involvement in political
development at home).

G) To what extent is the diaspora community engaged in meeting the
health, education and welfare needs of indigenous peoples?

So far, the diaspora community has not been particularly focused on
issues related to indigenous populations in Bangladesh.

H) To what extent is the diaspora community engaged in democracy
promotion, electoral reform and civil society development? Are
there key milestones in your host country or host government's
development that would create opportunities for such engagement in
the future?

The Bangladeshi diaspora has been polarized along traditional
political party lines. At the same time, there are opportunities
for the diaspora community to assist with efforts to reform the
political parties and build institutions at home. We will look at
these opportunities as we develop expanded democracy/governance
programs delivered through USAID.

I) How would you characterize the level of concern and attention
given to diaspora communities by your host government? If
applicable, please describe the host government's organization and
strategy dedicated to relationship-building with its diaspora
communities. For example, host governments may have established
promotion offices to encourage diasporans' return, bringing with
them know-how and financial resources.

The Government of Bangladesh is increasingly interested in
leveraging the contribution of the diaspora community. We have
begun to discuss the possibility of establishing a "Bangladesh
Foundation" in the United States to help channel the energies and
contribution of the diaspora into public-private partnerships in
Bangladesh. The Prime Minister's son is a member of the diaspora,
living outside Washington D.C. and married to an American citizen.
He studied in the U.S. at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
One of the PM's international affairs advisors is a professor at
the University of Virginia. The Prime Minister's daughter lives in
Canada. There have been a number of initiatives to encourage the
diaspora to remit money to Bangladesh, to become involved in
lobbying on Bangladesh in the United States, to invest in developing
resources, and to assist with education.

J) If post has undertaken programs to reach out proactively to
diaspora community members, please share the circumstances that
prompted the outreach effort, how outreach was conducted or
programmed, personal impressions from the experience, and benefits
from the outreach effort.

Mission Dhaka has been actively involved with outreach to diaspora
groups, including the Bangladesh Development Initiative (BDI), the
Bangladesh-American Public Affairs Committee (BAPAC) in Michigan,
and the U.S. Bangladesh Advisory Council (USBAC) in Washington.
Working with SCA, we have also pursued initiatives to reach out to
the Federation of Bangladesh Associations of North America (FOBANA),
including a speech by SCA A/S Blake at their 2009 annual conference.
We have worked with Bangladeshi-American academics through BDI and
the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies (AIBS). We are

DHAKA 00000919 003 OF 003

providing grants to Bangladeshi scholars to attend BDI's 2009
Harvard Conference, and the Ambassador will attend that event, along
with representatives from SCA. These initial initiatives have been
very positive.

K) If post has received unsolicited requests from the diaspora
community, please share the nature the requests, the considerations
post took into account in formulating respective responses, and the
outcomes of interaction.

Many of our unsolicited requests relate to cultural exchanges, and
include requests for visa assistance for Bangladeshi artists
traveling to the United States. Our commercial section interacts
with Bangladeshi-American entrepreneurs interested in doing business
in Bangladesh.

L) To what extent has post designed or participated in public
diplomacy programs customized to diaspora community needs and
interests? Does post anticipate taking advantage of such
opportunities in the future? (Ref. A is one example.)

We have focused our diaspora-related public diplomacy interaction on
academic exchanges. We would be eager to expand on these
opportunities. One possibility would be to tap into Bangladeshi
American expertise for speaker programs and also to tie-in these
initiatives with other exchange and visitor programs.

M) In planning future programs and anticipating requests for
assistance from diaspora community actors, what types of knowledge
management tools and information materials would be most helpful to
action officers at post? If the Department were to develop a
reach-back program to academics in the field of diaspora community
engagement, what are post's preferences for accessing such a

The Department could assist us by funding research into the
Bangladeshi community in the United States. This could include a
mapping exercise which would catalogue the existing Bangladeshi
American groups and associations as well as the state-by-state
population of the diaspora community.

3. (U) Mission Dhaka points of contact on diaspora engagement are
PolOff Partha Mazumdar and PAO Lauren Lovelace.


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