At least 200 people crossing over from India have been arrested in the Bangladesh areas bordering West Bengal in the past few weeks. Newspaper reports from Bangladesh suggest the number could be higher, and those arrested are people fleeing harassment and intimidation, specifically from Bengaluru.
On Wednesday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament that the government was planning a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise last held in Assam and seen as directed at illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
On Saturday, more than 55 alleged Bangladeshi nationals, including women and children, were brought to the Howrah Railway Station in Kolkata from Bengaluru, for deportation. They remained at the station for four hours, as the Bengaluru police discussed what to do next with the West Bengal Police and BSF. They were later driven away in a bus.
No officer from police of either state or the BSF was willing to speak on the issue.
Bengaluru Deputy Commissioner of Police (East) S D Sharanappa, the nodal officer for deportation of the alleged illegal immigrants, told The Sunday Express, “They have been escorted by 30 policemen. We have spoken to the West Bengal Police, the BSF, and are coordinating with the Karnataka Home Department and Union Home Ministry.”
A police official said the batch was “the first that was issued leave India notice for deportation”. The notice is issued after Union Home Ministry has established that a person is not Indian. The Bengaluru police will be compensated by the Centre for the cost of their transport.
A month ago, the Bengaluru police had announced a crackdown on alleged Bangladeshis in the city, raiding two camps and arresting 60, all of them Muslims. Bengaluru Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao warned against providing shelter and employment to illegal immigrants, after which many suspected Bangladeshis started leaving the city.
According to Dhaka Tribune, a Bangladeshi news outlet, over the last 15 days, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) has detained more than 200 people after they illegally crossed over from India through Moheshpur in Jhenaidah.
Bangladesh’s largest English daily, Daily Star, put their numbers at 329, saying arrests started three weeks ago, in Jhenaidah and Jessore’s Benapole area. The men, women and children had been handed over to police and sent to district jails, it said.
The Bangladesh media has quoted officials of the 58th BGB battalion as saying the people had claimed to be Bangladeshis. “They fled different areas of India after facing persecution at the hands of locals and fearing repercussions after being left out of the NRC,” reports said. The Daily Star said among them were 67 minors, 69 men and 78 women. Dhaka Tribune quoted the battalion commander as saying they faced “various problems, especially in areas like Bangalore”.
At the Howrah Railway Station, Muhammed Jehangir, huddled with his wife Laila Bibi and three-year-old son, said, “For three years, I was living in Bengaluru. I worked as a plastic garbage collector, earning Rs 400 a day, which is unthinkable in Bangladesh for a man like me. One morning police came. They told me that if I accept I am from Bangladesh, they will send me home. Or else I would be put in a jail. I handed over papers showing I am from Bangladesh.”
Haji Abdul Hakim, 50, and wife Hasina Begum, 40, too said they worked as garbage collectors in Bengaluru for the past four years. “I came to India paying people to help me cross the border,” said Hakim.
A Bengaluru police official said that since they began their crackdown, “almost half the illegal immigrants had left”. “We do not know the exact numbers.”–with inputs from Kolkata