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Illegal Bangladeshi Migration to India: Impact on Internal Security

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  • May 07, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chairperson: Shri Ajit K Doval
    External Discussants: E N Ram Mohan and J N Roy
    Internal Discussants: Brig(retd.) Ramel Dahiya and Dr. Smruti S Pattanaik

    Stating that that they are around 10-20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants in India, Dr. Anand Kumar emphasized the need to understand the security aspects of illegal migration. The 9/11 Commission report points out that practically no communication existed between the security system and the immigration department. Unchecked and unregulated migration flows together with high fertility rates could create an explosive situation. While urbanization is prompting migration towards industrialized nations, the author pointed to lax immigration control which allowed terrorism to grow thus weakening the internal security. He pointed out that the main problem inherent with illegal migration was the lack of cooperation of Bangladesh on the issue. He pointed out that sending migrants to other countries is the undeclared objective of the foreign policy of Bangladesh.

    Though attempts have been made in India to prevent illegal migration, they have been relatively weak. The author stated that the socio-political movement started by the Assamese people in 1979 to evict illegal Bangladeshis ended in Assam Accord in 1985. In April, 2005 a youth organization, Chiring Chapori Yuva Mancha began a campaign against the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Illegal Bangladeshi Migrants are also threat to language and culture of Assam. ULFA which arose as a protest against Bangladeshis lost credibility only when its leaders took shelter in Bangladesh after the Bhutanese operation against the group in December 2003. Arrest of Bangladeshi national S. M. Alam in January 2008 by Assam Police revealed ISI’s plan to turn northeast into a volatile region. The migrants have also spread into other places like Dimapur and Kohima. The illegal migrants are not involved into terrorism in a big way, but involved in gun running, fake currency rackets and drug running.

    Growing population pressure in Bangladesh acts as a push factor whereas growing Indian economy, relatively less pressure on land and weak state resistance act as pull factor. Islamic fundamentalist extremist groups are growing in Bangladesh and they are able to expand their activities in West Bengal as well. Some of such organistaions are Jamait-e-Islami-e-Hind, Jamait-Ahle-Hadis, Students Islamic Organization (SIO), Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Tabligh-e-Jamat. Four of them are most active. Meetings have taken place between Jamaat-e-Islami and West Bengal based radical Muslim organizations and it is believed that ISI is behind them. There has been a growth of unauthorized, illegal madrassas all over West Bengal particularly along the Bangladesh border. They are also using Kolkota and Agartala as bases being close to the border and people from both sides speak the same language. There are also groups which are directly involved in subversive activities such as HUJI.

    Siliguri town acts as gateway to Guwahati, Gangtok and Kishengunj and also shares the border with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Important highways, railways tracks, vital installations such as the airfields of Bagdogra and Hashimara and oil pipelines are located here. Increase in Muslim population in Siliguri and adjoining areas has grown at an astonishing 150% in the past seven years. There are villages in and around Siliguri which have curious population mix and often act as heaven for ISI operatives. The villages have some 2,000 Pashto and Baloch settlers from Afghanistan along with 6,000 Iraninas. The increased activity of the ISI has endangered the security of the Siliguri corridor. ISI attempted sabotage in 1999 following a bomb blast at New Jalpaiguri Station.

    Options for India:

    1. Diplomatic Effort – India has to make diplomatic effort to get Bangladesh to cooperate as illegal migration cannot be solved in an effective manner unless sending country cooperates. Sharing of digital database of its citizens will make it easier.
    2. Financial Incentives: India should think of offering illegal migrants financial incentives in the form of liberal trade regime, an infusion of aid and investment.
    3. Coercive Diplomacy- The action of security forces should clearly convey to the illegal migrants that they would face greater danger if they try to cross the border.
    4. Better Border Management- Fencing, construction of border roads and proper management of border will make a difference
    5. Use better Indo-Bangladesh relations- Both the countries have better relations and both side should demarcate remaining 6.5 km of the border and the areas in adverse possession should be negotiated and form well defined border
    6. Unique Identification Number (UID) scheme – Compilation of data is likely to reduce the comfort level of fresh illegal migrants.
    7. Bar from Voting rights- Bangladeshi who are already in could be allowed to work but should not be allowed to vote and this will diminish their ability to influence government decisions by being a political force.

    The author concluded by pointing out that the illegal Bangladeshi migration was not the core focus of the government but it has been forced to take a close look at the problem as the terror incidents grew in intensity and frequency. He emphasized that India must go for better border management and effective record keeping of its nationals so that outsiders are easily identified and discouraged from infiltrating.


    • Migration started from partition. Delhi had policy to monitor Bangladeshis to be settled down in Assam. Most of the Pakistani terrorists present in Kashmir enter via Bangladesh and Nepal. Government should do a lot to solve this problem seriously.
    • It’s a complex situation; BSF alone cannot solve the problem. It has socioeconomic and religious dimensions. Density of troops at the border is also lacking so government should provide more troops. For the economically deprived, criminality is the way of life. The UID card shares only few details that make it difficult to recognize them. Even readmission agreement will not work but better border management is required.
    • The theoretical and international context of migration should be shortened. Terrorists have used the route but illegal Bangladeshi migrants are not charged of terrorist activities. Out of 7 terrorist organizations, only SIMI is banned. Others continue to have fraternal links with organizations in Bangladesh and West Bengal.
    • The concept should differentiate legal and illegal aspects of migration. The paper needs to have hypotheses.
    • The issue is economic. Illegal migrants act as cheap labour. As Bangladesh cannott expand its space for the huge population, the expansion is through the illegal migration. Work permit for them is the partial answer, the problem also have political context.

    Report Prepared by Mr Pramod Jaiswal, Research Assistant, IDSA