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24 May 2018

Bengal govt readies defence on Rohingya issue ahead of Modi-Hasina meet

Rohingya refugees await the arrival of a UN Security Council team at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, last month. West Bengal has provided shelter to many such families despite opposition from the central government .
Rohingya refugees await the arrival of a UN Security Council team at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, last month. West Bengal has provided shelter to many such families despite opposition from the central government . (AP photo)
HT , Kolkata: The West Bengal government is readying its defence for a controversial decision to shelter dozens of Rohingya families in various parts of the state ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, at Santiniketan on Friday.

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee will also be present at the convocation of the Visva-Bharati University, an institution founded by Rabindranath Tagore that Modi heads in the capacity of chancellor. Senior state officials said that while no meeting was planned between the three, they want to take no chances.

The issue of Rohingya resettlement is one of the many subjects on which Banerjee differs sharply with the BJP-led central government. “The Centre and the state government have been at loggerheads on the issue of settling Rohingyas on Indian soil. Therefore, the state government wants to be ready with all the facts. Details of every settlement are being collected, and every Rohingya staying in Bengal now holds the United Nation’s refugee card,” said a senior official with the state secretariat.

“Nobody except the chief minister will go on record on this issue. Though the issue is not on the agenda, we will be prepared even if the question is raised informally,” he added.

While the Modi government wants to deport all Rohingya refugees, who are considered as the most persecuted ethnic minority in the world, the Bengal chief minister publicly expressed her empathy for them last year. “We support the UN appeal to help the Rohingya people. We believe that all commoners are not terrorists. We are really concerned,” Banerjee tweeted in September 2017.

Several dozens of Rohingya families have been accommodated in different villages of the South 24-Parganas district by NGOs, an initiative that received the tacit support of local Trinamool Congress leaders.

Earlier this month, Union minister of state for drinking water and sanitation SS Ahluwalia alleged that the West Bengal government had accommodated over 320 Rohingya families from Myanmar at Deolo, Lava Forest, Melli and Rangpo in the north Bengal hills. “Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and the Dooars region share three international borders, all of which are porous. Settlement of Rohingyas in this sensitive region can pose a serious national security threat,” the BJP MP from Darjeeling wrote in a letter to Modi on May 3.

Bangladesh has absorbed about five lakh Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar, and Sheikh Hasina has been urging international communities to share the responsibility of sheltering the population on “humanitarian grounds”.

Many refugees in India have come from Bangladeshi camps, which have become overcrowded due to the heavy influx of Rohingyas from the country’s eastern neighbour.

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