Drop in visitors from Bangladesh after CAA stir

Fewer crossings: People wait at the border check post at Hili in Dakhsin Dinajpur, West Bengal.

Fewer crossings: People wait at the border check post at Hili in Dakhsin Dinajpur, West Bengal.  

Protests, remarks on migrants spark unease in travellers

The number of travellers from Bangladesh to India has dipped as protests erupted across the country against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

In October, India announced easing of restrictions on visitors from Bangladesh with valid papers through land ports. However, reports suggest travel disruption and cancellations.

Following the protests against the CAA, the Dhaka Tribune has reported a nearly 50% reduction in the flow of visitors from Bangladesh through the Hili Immigration Check Post in South Dinajpur, West Bengal.

The check post surveyed by the newspaper used to facilitate at least 800 visitors from Bangladesh daily earlier. According to the report, sources at the Hili check post said the number of daily visitors from Bangladesh had now come down to 300. Visitors cited growing difficulties like train cancellations due to protests in different parts of India as among the reasons forcing them to travel plans.

According to the officials in Hili, 3,383 visitors from Bangladesh came to India during the first fortnight of December when 808 Indians went to Bangladesh. In the second fortnight, however, the number of Bangladeshi citizens fell to 1,832 while the number of Indians plummeted to 47.

A source in the Bangladesh High Commission here said the land immigration check posts were used mainly by visitors seeking Indian services close to the border.

Akhaura unaffected

“People in Bangladesh are following developments and are temporarily postponing non-essential visits in view of reports of protests in Assam and Bengal against the citizenship law,” said the diplomatic source who however, maintained that movement through the Akhaura and Benapol transit points remained unaffected.

Bangladesh officials said the dip in visitors could be for a number of reasons, including a slide in public perception of bilateral ties. One official pointed to Home Minister Amit Shah’s repeated reference to immigrants as “termites” as “hurtful to Bangladeshis”.

“While our relations are historic and remain strong at the official level, average Bangladeshis might look at all that is happening in India and not feel as welcome there as before,” added the official, who asked not to be identified.

The decline in the number of travellers and growing apprehension goes against the spirit of the Joint Statement released during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi in October, when India agreed to remove remaining restrictions for overland travellers to foster better people-to-people and business ties. India removed similar restrictions against Bangladesh air travellers in 2017.

Officially, all eyes are on the scheduled visit to Delhi by Bangladesh Deputy Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam next month to address the MEA’s Raisina Dialogue.

Earlier this month, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen had cancelled his visit and a technical meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission was put off, believed to be due to unhappiness over the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act and comments made about the status of minorities in Bangladesh.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 11:34:34 AM |

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