The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Second attempt at migrant pushback

Feb. 1: The standoff between the Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles over the “pushing back” of 213 people across the Bangladesh border in north Bengal stretched into the second day but the smaller group stranded at Nadia “crossed over” in darkness.

The 26 illegal migrants, part of the 56-strong group the BSF tried to “push back” yesterday, had been beaten back by the BDR. They trekked 34 kilometres in the cold night along the international border in Nadia to slip into Bangladesh early this morning.

They were more fortunate than the larger group, which spent another night freezing on no-man’s land at Satgachi in Cooch Behar’s Mathabhanga subdivision. The situation is grim with the condition of the 80 children causing concern. Along with the children, the 65 women and 68 men have been starving since yesterday.

Sources said Jalpaiguri divisional commissioner Debajyoti Chakravarty has sought the Red Cross’ help. These people, all claiming to be Bangladeshis, were rounded up by the BDR and pushed out towards India yesterday, but the BSF did not allow them to cross over.

BSF officials had invited their Bangladeshi counterparts for a “flag meeting” to resolve the stalemate, but there was no response. The Bangla border troops have shown no signs of relenting and have taken up positions with guns on the ready.

The border tension spilled into the capitals yesterday, with Delhi summoning Bangladesh deputy high commissioner Shahadat Hussein to express concern over continuing illegal immigration. Bangladesh registered its protest in Dhaka against the “pushback” attempts with Dilip Sinha, Hussein’s Indian counterpart, adds our Delhi bureau.

As bilateral relations nose-dived, the move to deport the illegal immigrants, who are being increasingly considered a security threat, slowed down. The Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office under the home ministry — led by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who says there are at least 20 million illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India — has asked police to stop the drive, begun on January 15, till further orders.

Sources said a trainload of illegal immigrants sent to the border by Delhi police is returning to the capital. Bangladesh has refused to acknowledge them as its citizens, calling them “Indian Muslims” instead.

Police sources in Nadia said the 26 men, women and children, who were fed and rested by the Phulbari villagers after their harrowing experience yesterday, were escorted by four youths to a place called Bijay Math where they “crossed over”.

“The police came with us some of the way. Around 3 am, we reached Bijay Math, where we took the Bangladeshis past a BSF camp, which is beyond a barbed-wire fence, and they slipped across the border in the darkness into the Gajipur-Meherpur district,” one of the guides said.

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