Husna Ara Begum Matin (Tower Hamlets, UK)

My journey

Husna Ara Begum has moved countries and homes a number of times – she is a 'multiple migrant'. In 1966, she moved from Sylhet to West Pakistan and then to Saudi Arabia.

The thing that attracted me most in Saudi Arabia was that we were living beside Allah's house. As a Muslim it was a great pleasure that we performed hajj at a young age. Every two weeks we could go to Mecca, and once a month we used to go to Medina… That was the most blessed time of my life.

She lived there until 1970 and was transferred back to Pakistan shortly before the Liberation War (1971).

The War started just one month after we arrived in Pakistan. It was a very difficult time for us. 17 crates of household items were coming by ship, including a fridge and an air conditioner. But we couldn't get the items because the War started in full swing and our belongings were looted. That was a very hard time. We and our three kids were so anxious all the time. We had to whisper even when we were inside the house. If I needed to go out, I had to wear a burkha so that they wouldn't see if I was Bengali or Pakistani.

After five months, they returned to Saudi Arabia with an 'umrah' visa (to perform hajj). They stayed in the Pakistan embassy.

In Saudi Arabia, we didn't know whether the Pakistan embassy would allow us to stay or not. Initially it was very confusing. Finally the embassy did allow us to stay… After the War, the Pakistan embassy asked the 17 Bengali families who were working in the embassy to leave. The Saudi government also refused us permission to stay, saying that we were 'all Hindus'. Then my husband and others contacted Sheikh Mujib [then Prime Minister of Bangladesh] through India and he sent a ship to take us to Bangladesh.

The Bangladeshi flag on the ship

In March we raised the Bangladeshi flag on the ship. The trip took 17 days… We arrived in Bangladesh in April 1972… Then we went to Sylhet. Everyone in Sylhet was amazed to see us. Nobody recognised us.

We found many problems in the country. We didn't have any money. There was no water, electricity or food. The kids suffered most because they were born and raised outside the country, so they hadn't seen problems like this before.

The family was transferred to London at the end of 1972.



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