Fear Of NRC Triggers Migration Of Illegal Immigrants From India Back To Bangladesh Via ‘Safe Haven’ Bengal 

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Jan 1, 2020 10:18 AM
Fear Of NRC Triggers Migration Of Illegal Immigrants From India Back To Bangladesh Via ‘Safe Haven’ Bengal The India Bangladesh land border crossing. (Shazia Rahman/GettyImages)
  • BSF units along the Indo-Bangladesh border have reported massing of people in many villages and small towns near the border. These suspected illegal immigrants are now waiting for an opportune time to cross over to Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi Muslims who entered India illegally through Assam and Bengal in recent decades and had migrated to other parts of the country have started returning to Bengal in large numbers.

Many of them are reportedly making plans to make their way through the porous portions of the Indo-Bangladesh border back to their own country.

According to multiple sources in the Railways, Bengal police and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), a few thousand such illegal Bangladeshi immigrants (IBIs) have journeyed to Bengal from Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and some other states in recent weeks.

Many of these IBIs are planning to return to Bangladesh and have reportedly got in touch with touts who facilitate illegal movement of humans across the international border.

Senior Border Security Force (BSF) officers in the North and South Bengal frontiers told Swarajya that BSF units along the Indo-Bangladesh border have reported massing of people in many villages and small towns near the border.

These suspected IBIs are waiting for an opportune time to cross over to Bangladesh.

Fearing this, Bangladesh has suspended mobile telecom services along a one kilometer band along the approximately 4100 kilometer-long border with India. This has affected 10 million subscribers of Bangladesh’s four telecom operators living along the international border.

“Telecom services have been suspended for the sake of the country’s security under the current circumstances,” a senior official of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission told Swarajya from Dhaka.

He explained that the shutdown was ordered at the behest of the home ministry which apprehends a large-scale reverse migration of IBIs from India.

“The touts who would have facilitated this (reverse migration) will not be able to function without their mobile phones. Also, those planning to cross over to Bangladesh will not be able to get in touch with these touts or people living along the border in Bangladesh who they may know and whose help they would have taken to cross over,” the Commission official said.

Indian mobile telecom services are very weak along the Indo-Bangladesh border and most people living along the Indian side of the border use Bangladesh mobile services, especially ‘Grameenphone’ (Bangladesh’s premier mobile network operator) whose network is very strong.

Thus, by switching off mobile telecom services indefinitely, Dhaka hopes to deny the IBIs who are amassing along the border in Bengal the opportunity to contact touts and others in Bangladesh who would facilitate their entry into that country.

“All the talk about a nationwide NRC has put the fear among IBIs living and working in many states outside Bengal. The news of detection of a few score of such IBIs in Karnataka and their subsequent deportation has spread like wildfire among them.

“They (the IBIs) also fear being incarcerated in detention centres and the prevailing sentiment among them now is to migrate to Bengal where they will be safe and await an opportune time to get back to Bangladesh,” said a senior IB officer.

The reason they are migrating to Bengal, and not Assam, in large numbers is because they know they will be safe in Bengal. “They know that the Mamata Banerjee government will not do anything to them and will protect them”.

“But Assam is now hostile to IBIs and so they cannot risk going to Assam, even though it would have been easier to cross over to Bangladesh from Assam due to greater porosity of the many stretches of the border there,” the IB officer explained.

Bangladesh has already detained a few hundred people who have crossed over into that country from India (read this and this). Dhaka has asked the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) and police along the border to be on alert and foil attempts by people to cross over into that country.

According to officials of the Eastern and South-Eastern Railways headquartered in Kolkata, a few thousand suspected IBIs have arrived in Bengal on trains coming in from North, South and West India.

“We have detected unusual movement of Bengali Muslims speaking in Bangladeshi dialects travelling on such trains, especially unreserved coaches, to Bengal in recent weeks,” said a South-Eastern Railway official.

Many suspected IBIs are also travelling by road from other states to Bengal. “Most of them would have immigrated to India illegally over the last couple of decades and have not been able to get all documents to establish themselves as Indian citizens. Thus, fearing detection and incarceration in detention centres, they are traveling to Bengal which is a safe haven for them,” said the senior IB officer.

But, he added, Bengal cannot sustain them for long. There are no jobs or employment opportunities for them in Bengal. They know that they have to return to Bangladesh and are now waiting for an opportune time to do so,” he said.

Most of the IBIs who have come into Bengal in recent weeks are massed in the border districts of Malda, Murshidabad, Uttar Dinajpur and South 24 Parganas which are either Muslim-majority or have a large presence of Muslims. Many stretches of the international border along these districts are porous.

The CAA and all the talk of NRC has helped create the fear of detection, incarceration and deportation among IBIs, thus triggering their voluntary return to their homeland (Bangladesh).

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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