The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jingoism is as bad for domestic politics as for international relations. Dhaka seems to have realized this after a week of futile posturings. The unseemly row at the border not only caused untold hardships to the poor Bangladeshi migrants but also embittered relations between the two countries. There are internationally accepted procedures for the identification and repatriation of such people. The standoff at the border could have been avoided if Dhaka had earlier accepted the incontrovertible proofs of the migrants being Bangladeshis. But the real lesson of the episode will be lost on Bangladesh if it continues with its ostrich-like attitude to the illegal migration of its people to India. The deputy prime minister, Mr L.K. Advani, is not the first Indian politician to express anxiety over the seemingly endless tide of such migration. Nor is India the only country to fear the economic and social consequences of unchecked influx of foreigners.

Since Bangladeshi migrants mix easily with large sections of the Indian population by virtue of common physical features, language and religion, their identification remains a herculean task. That is why their numbers have swollen so greatly, particularly in the states along the porous border between the two countries. However, the difficulty of the task cannot be any reason for not starting it in earnest. New Delhi had earlier recommended a two-pronged strategy it wanted to issue special identity cards to villagers living close to the border and work-permits to legal migrants. But more important is to bust a network of corruption, involving politicians, the police and the forces guarding the border, that thrives on illegal migration. Unless this evil is eliminated, even the barbed-wire fencing of the border will not help. Since no country can defend illegal actions even by its people, Dhaka would do well not to build barriers on legitimate repatriations. Building bridges of cooperation, and not barriers, should engage the two countries. In fact, the resolution of the migrants dispute could be a starting point for a turnaround in bilateral relations. That could benefit the people on both sides of the border.

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