Bangladesh authorities do not have any data on immigrants or migrants who have illegally entered or are staying after their stay permit or tourist visa has expired.
The illegal immigrant issue was never a concern for the government, politicians, research outfits, nor the media. No wonder, the issue of illegal migration was never on the political agenda of the ruling party or the opposition.
Most critics do not want to understand that there are illegal and legal migrants in Bangladesh. The illegal migrant is not unusual when the migrant's countries such as India and Myanmar share porous borders, despite having barbed wire fences and stringent border management and border guards along both sides of the international border it is still not easy to seal the difficult terrain.
Countries in this region for more than seven decades are prone to the smuggling of contraband goods, human trafficking, and cross-border terrorism ----- activities which make the border and adjacent regions sensitive.
On both sides, there are many people whose livelihoods are dependent on the non-formal trade along the border.
Indian authorities in the last ten years have raised the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh at bilateral talks. Meanwhile, the Indian National Register of Citizens (NRC) has made an outcry in both India and Bangladesh media, among political parties and government.
Bangladeshi media debates the issue of illegal immigrants, who have allegedly settled in Assam from Bangladesh.
Nearly one million expats are legally and illegally working in garments, composite textile mills, knitwear, sweater, buying houses, merchandiser companies, fashion houses, food processing and marketing, poultry, tannery, and research organisations, according to a security agencies report.
A recent report in Obhijatra, a Bangladeshi news portal, argues that illegal immigrants are a huge burden for Bangladesh’s economy. The report identifies Afghanistan, Algeria, China, Congo, Ghana, India, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Somalia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, are major countries from where illegal immigrants come into Bangladesh.
According to a study by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Indians in Bangladesh sent more than $126 million back home in 2017, while Bangladesh got $4,033 million in remittances from India the same year.
The national census and other surveys carried out by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) do not indicate any illegal migration.
Neither India nor Bangladesh has any specific official data on illegal immigrants. The Indian government has time and again reiterated that the country lacks an official database of illegal immigrants.
Researchers argue that migration takes place for either economic reasons or due to compulsions arising from persecutions. It appears that Bangladesh has crossed the economic threshold, and if anything, people from poorer countries are migrating there in large numbers.
First published in Bangla Tribune online edition, 31 October 2019
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, also a recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org