Success for British Bangladeshis comes at a price

Oli Khan, FRSA; Chef, Commentator; Secretary General of the Bangladesh Caterers Association Wednesday 29th May 2019 04:51 EDT

In my last column I wrote about the success of British Bangladeshis. It’s a fact that young British Bangladeshis have benefited from how their parents have integrated into the British life. They have better financial support and access to education; I believe their success has been built on the UK’s Bangladeshi curry industry – because as we have become more successful, our younger generations have become more aspirational. A journey where they are going to university, entering the world of arts and culture, opting for other professions such as law, IT, politics and more.

Yet, their success is bittersweet, because we can no longer rely on our young Bangladeshis to join our family businesses. As a result, it has impacted Britain’s Curry industry, which is struggling to find staff and the talent to take over the businesses we have built. British Bangladeshi curry houses are here because of the hard work of our forefathers who were the pioneers of this wonderful industry. We have all built our business successes on the sweat and tears of our family members who helped us create this future; we had a legacy.

But now after five decades of expansion and overwhelming cultural acceptance, the British curry sector is going through one of the most critical periods in its history. We know that at least three to four restaurants are closing a week. There are also challenges for new curry houses who have had their openings delayed because they can’t find the chefs.

Yes, we can train chefs/staff from other nationalities to work alongside us and we have been doing so - training and investing in workers from Europe, who after gaining the expertise decide to leave. But now, with the Brexit delays, there has been a steep drop in the recruitment and availability of the European staff as well.

The Government has repeatedly failed to listen to our business community's concerns and neither is it offering any sensible immigration rules to skilled workers from international countries out of the EU, with respect to allowing them temporary visas. Unfortunately, as a result, some of these curry houses are being forced out of business by a shortage of chefs.

The Government needs to understand that there is such a thing as good immigration! The Bangladeshi population in Britain shows that migrant communities can thrive and more fundamentally contribute to the British economy.

I have empathy with our younger generation who are living in a bipolar world where on the one hand they’re very British, brought up with morals and principles of the British culture, and on the other side, they are weighed down under the mantle of expectations and traditions. Many of them struggle to straddle both realms. In a world of increasing divisions, it is important that we are able to celebrate what we have in common and be able to come together.

Eating food is wonderful way to do this, something that I am fortunate to experience on a daily basis in my restaurant. On the evening of 4 June, I with all my fellow Muslims will be celebrating Eid Al Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan. A time to gather as a family; a joyous occasion for all Muslims throughout the world. So, to you my friends, from all communities, let us ‘break bread together’, heal and come together in the face of humanity. Eid Mubarak!

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