The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dhaka turns ‘nationals’ away

New Delhi, Feb. 1: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s plan to send back illegal migrants from Bangladesh has been stalled.

A trainload of alleged Bangladeshis picked up by Delhi police are on their way back to the capital with Dhaka refusing to accept them as their nationals. The train is expected either late tonight or tomorrow morning, sources said.

The district police have got orders from the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office, which is under the home ministry, to stop the drive against Bangladeshis, begun on January 15, till further orders. The police are not surprised, aware from past experience that such exercises have been futile.

All that it has achieved till now is to further jeopardise already strained relations with Bangladesh. “Without the co-operation of Dhaka, this problem cannot be solved. The two countries have to sit together and get a system in place. Raising Bangladesh’s hackles will get us nowhere,” a sceptical official commented.

Though the drive against foreigners is the new mantra in the home ministry, officials don’t have much clue on how to go about it.

A former director-general of the Border Security Force, with first-hand knowledge of the problems on the eastern border, said successive governments in the Centre have been aware of the problems caused by largescale influx from Bangladesh, but nobody has been able to devise a way to end the problem.

“There are two issues involved here. One is dealing with the people who have already crossed over to India and are staying illegally, the other, how to stop further infiltration. I believe it would be better to concentrate on the latter instead of wasting time and effort to deport people Bangladesh refuses to acknowledge,” is his practical suggestion. According to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, there are at least 20 million illegal Bangladeshis in India.

The former BSF chief said manning India’s 4096 kilometres of porous border with Bangladesh is an enormous task, but one which has to be immediately addressed if New Delhi is to stop continuing illegal influx from across her eastern borders.

In the last five to six years, the BSF deployed in the eastern borders have been reduced to one-third of its original strength because most of the battalions have been shifted to Kashmir on counter-terrorist operations. The Centre is now thinking of replacing the BSF with the CRPF in Kashmir, but this will take over two years. In the meantime, the sensitive eastern borders remain poorly manned.

Unless India and Bangladesh put their heads together and enunciate a clear policy for the future, things will only move from bad to worse. For India, the problem is compounded by fears that Pakistan’s ISI is using the Bangladesh border to send terrorists into India.

Advani is aware of the problem, but believes a start has to be made somewhere. “We realise this is a very difficult task, but it is up to us to give a signal that India is not a soft state and will not tolerate unchecked infiltration,” the deputy Prime Minister said recently.

The process may be on, a senior bureaucrat explained, but, so far, it has been a futile exercise. “They are taken to the border and shoved out, but within days the same people are back, slipping in from another gap in the long porous border that divides Bangladesh and India on the eastern front,” the official said. This time around, Bangaldesh refuses to acknowledge the migrants as its citizens and the push and shove is likely to continue.

Dhaka wants India to send the foreigners out by diplomatic means, while New Delhi is concentrating on just dumping them on the borders. “Diplomatic channels take a long time and when 20 million people are involved, sending 10 people out would take over one-and-a-half years at least,” he added.

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