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India walks tightrope as Sheikh Hasina wants Delhi to do more on repatriation of Rohinya refugees

Bangladesh is home to a million refugees from Rakhine

PTI09_06_2022_000229A Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina, at Hyderabad House in New Delhi | PTI

It is the golden age of friendship. There were gestures of warmth—more trade, trains and if not Teesta, another water pact. In a big step forward in bilateral ties, India and Bangladesh signed the first river water sharing pact after 25 years—for the Kushiyara. But there is one issue that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wants India to help; but it won't be easy.

It was an issue that Hasina was certainly going to bring up—the Rohinya refugees. When a reporter raised a question on the issue before her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Hasina chose not to mince words. India is a big country, she asserted, adding, it can do a lot on the issues of the Rohinyas.

Hasina is on her first visit to India to India after the pandemic. She held discussions with Modi on Tuesday.

For India, it is a balancing act. The relationship between India and Bangladesh is warm. India has been trying to find a solution with Myanmar on the Rohinya crisis. With the elections due next year, Hasina certainly wants to ensure that she is on a firm wicket, and wants to take no chances as it is an emotive issue.

“We are aware of the Rohingya issue,’’ said foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra at a special briefing. “There is a global appreciation of Bangladesh's role in giving them refuge. We have also provided financial help. In the future, whatever assistance is required, the government of India will give."

He said India supported all "those efforts which ensure safe, steady and quick repatriation to Myanmar".

Bangladesh is home to a million refugees from the Rakhine area, and is hoping that India will use its influence to send them back. While the issue has come up between the two leaders before, Bangladesh seems to be losing patience.

During the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Bangladesh chose to turn to China, asking Beijing to assert influence on Myanmar to take the refugees back. “Our foreign minister strongly reiterated that Chinese cooperation is needed. China has progressed on resolving the Rohingya issue and we need the situation to come to an end,” Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh minister for foreign affairs was quoted as saying after Wang Yi’s visit.

The visit, however, had plenty of takeaways. India and Bangladesh signed seven MOUs, and talks on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) are likely to begin soon. “We also decided to increase cooperation in sectors such as IT, space and nuclear energy," PM Modi said.

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