December 1998 Volume 5 Number 12
India and Bangladesh in November 1998 failed to resolve a dispute over the alleged illegal migration of tens of thousands of Bangladeshi nationals to India in search of jobs. Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mustafizur Rahman said: "We have no knowledge of illegal Bangladeshi migrants in India." Indian Interior Secretary B.P. Singh said that, in 1991, the two countries had agreed to exchange illegal migrants. Bangladesh and India share 4,000 km of border.
In October 1998, Indian and Bangladeshi border guards accused each other of taking insufficient action against illegal migrants. Indian border guards reportedly tried to force Bengali-speaking people into Bangladesh, accusing them of being illegal migrants. Bangladeshi guards pushed them back into India. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads the 19-party coalition government, vowed to deport illegal Muslim immigrants. However, Bangladesh does not accept the return of migrants unless it agrees that they are Bangladeshis.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpahee in November announced that he would push for dual-nationality for Indians overseas, a recognition that overseas Indians remit $12 billion a year. The Indian diaspora is estimated at 15 million persons with $150 billion worth of assets worldwide.
Pakistan is drafting new legislation which would increase punishments for illegal foreign nationals living or working in Pakistan. In the proposed law, the imprisonment for the foreigners traveling in any part of the country without valid documents is being enhanced from five to 15 years. For the first time the employers providing a job to such foreign nationals will also be liable for punishment.
Pakistan plans to register an estimated three million illegal foreigners, beginning with the 2 to 2.5 million in Karachi; registration would provide up to seven years legal residence in Pakistan, and to generate Rs450 million ($8 million) in fees for the government. Most of the illegals are believed to be from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Burma, Iran and Iraq. Overseas Pakistanis remitted $1.5 billion in 1997.
Beginning November 5, women leaving Sri Lanka as migrant workers must have a valid endorsement from the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) in their passports. Airlines and travel agents were instructed not to issue tickets to migrant women workers if their passports do not carry an endorsement from the SLBFE. There are believed to be 50,000 Sri Lankan maids in Jordan and half went illegally. Maids returning to Sri Lanka after one year abroad can bring in goods worth $1,200 duty free.
"Law being drafted to curb illegal immigration," Dawn News Service, November 27, 1998. "India, Bangladesh Fail to Resolve Illegal-Migrant Dispute," AP, November 22, 1998.