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Bangladesh protests to UK Labour leader over his immigration claims

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What looked like a panicked response during a live interview hosted by a right-wing tabloid newspaper has further damaged relations between the man expected to be the UK’s next Prime Minister and a community that has long supported the party he leads. The Bangladesh High Commissioner (the equivalent of an Ambassador) in London has written to Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer to protest about his false claim about immigrants from Bangladesh arriving in the United Kingdom illegally and not being swiftly deported.

In her letter, High Commissioner Saida Muna Tasneem says that she has been "approached by a good number of eminent leaders of the Bangladesh Diaspora in the UK who have not only been saddened by your comments but also raised concerns”. She points out that Bangladesh is not even in the top 20 countries with the highest numbers of people arriving in small boats used by people smugglers to send their victims across the English Channel from France.

“At The Sun’s election showdown on 24 June 2024, … you mentioned in response to a query … that ‘people (illegal migrants) from countries such as Bangladesh aren’t being removed to their home countries under the Tories’, the High Commissioner wrote, somewhat icily offering to bridge “any information gap that may have caused this confusion”.

“As per the UK Home Office report, ‘Official Statistics of Illegal Migration to the UK’, published in May 2024, Bangladesh was never in the list of top 20 countries with highest numbers of small boat arrivals, and as per our information, Bangladeshis only enter the UK with a valid visa through legal channels”.

She further plugs Sir Keir’s information gap by reminding him of the Bangladesh-UK Home Office Joint Working Group’s finding that “not a single case of returns is pending to date”. (Bangladesh has agreed to accept back any of his citizens caught illegally entering the UK, as part of a wider deal on migration).

The Labour leader’s gaffe stems from an attempt to paint his party as the one that will really be ‘tough’ on immigration. Both legal and illegal migration has sharply increased since the UK supposedly ‘took back control’ of its borders when it ended freedom of movement with the European Union.

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Like most Western European countries, the UK has an ageing population and a shrinking workforce. Without immigration, its economy would take a further hit on top of the damage caused by Brexit. But on both immigration and Brexit, Labour has fought its election campaign with a strict policy of not telling the voters what many of them don’t want to hear.

In an attempt to explain his remarks about Bangladesh, Sir Keir Starmer said that “the reference in the debate the other day, was an example of a country that is considered safe as far as asylum concerns and one of the countries that actually has a returns agreement with us.

“That is actually a good thing that we and Bangladesh should be proud of that we have this returns agreement. I certainly wasn’t intending to cause any concern or offence to any Bangladeshi community here”.

With Labour well ahead in the polls, its only MPs fearful of losing their seats are those with large Muslim populations in their constituencies. Sir Keir Starmer has been unable to repair the damage done when he appeared to agree with the suggestion that Israel is entitled to deny food and medicine to civilians in Gaza. His remarks about Bangladesh have only added to the impression that he has a political blind spot when it comes showing respect some of his party’s most loyal supporters.

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