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Bangladesh PM Hasina thanks “tested friend” India for evacuating Bangladeshi students from Ukraine

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina (File photo)

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi led initiative towards rescuing students of her country who were stuck in eastern Europe following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

In a free-wheeling television interaction with ANI, Prime Minister Hasina, who is set to visit India on Monday, also lavished praise on the Modi government’s gesture of providing Covid-19 vaccines to neighbouring countries under its Vaccine Maitri programme when the pandemic was fast-spreading. The Bangladesh prime minister emphasized on closer cooperation between the two neighbours. There can be differences but these should be addressed through dialogue, she said adding that in a number of areas, India and Bangladesh had precisely done that.

She, however, marked out two areas for special praise where the Indian government’s support helped Bangladeshi citizens. One of these was the evacuation of Bangladesh students, who like many Indians, were stuck in Ukraine and its neighbouring countries after the outbreak of the conflict.

“I really would like to express my thanks to Prime Minister that during this war between Russia and Ukraine, many of our students were just stuck and they came to Poland to shelter. But when you evacuate your students, Indian students, they also brought our students back home. So it is really… You have shown a clearly friendly gesture. I thank Prime Minister for this initiative,” Hasina said.

She was responding to a question about remarks often made especially by western observers that there was a lack of cooperation among SAARC nations. To another question about the Indian government’s Vaccine Maitri programme, Hasina said it was a very “prudent” initiative taken by Prime Minister Modi.

“I really thank Prime Minister Modi for this initiative, and that way he… you know, contributed vaccines to not only Bangladesh, also some south Asian countries, and it’s really very very helpful. And it’s a really prudent initiative he has taken, and beside that we bought vaccines with our own money, and also many other countries also contributed,” Hasina said.

Hasina also gave details about her country’s vaccination programme. Bangladesh has administered Covid-19 vaccines to 90 per cent of its population. “Usually, you know, people from our country, especially the village level, even in some towns also, I found many people very much reluctant to take vaccine. They don’t want to take the… you know… the pinch of needle or ‘sui nai lena hai’ so… but we have to pursue them. We told them that this is nothing but it will save your life. So that way we engaged everybody, so that they make people… so it was really very good initiative, this Vaccine Maitri itself… very good initiative. I really support,” she said.

Hasina referred to India as a “tested” friend and said that country had stood by Bangladesh in its hour of need, first in 1971 and then at later times also.

“We always remember their contribution during our 1971 war. And beside that even 1975, when we lost all my family members. So, the then Prime Minister, she gave us shelter in India. Besides that, you see, these two countries, we are neighbours, close neighbours and I always give importance and priority to friendship with our neighbouring countries,” she said.

The relationship between the two countries should be for the betterment of their citizens, she said.

Hasina said even during the Covid-19 period, Indian leadership had shown their positive intentions as both, the then President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh as it celebrated its Independence Day.

“I really thank Prime Minister Modi and also your honourable president. Both of them visited Bangladesh when we were celebrating our father of the nation birth centenary and also our independence, 50 years of our Independence Day, and our friendship with India. India recognised Bangladesh early on, so that bonding, I think that is our main priority. That their visit at such a time, even that time there was a Covid-19 pandemic but beside that both of them honoured us, honoured our people,” she said.

Water, Rohingya return:

The Rohingya migrants are a “big burden” on Bangladesh and the country is reaching out to the international community to ensure they return to their homeland, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, adding that she feels India could play a major role in resolving the issue.

Hasina confessed that the presence of lakhs of Rohingyas in Bangladesh had created challenges for her regime. “Well you know… for us it’s a big burden. India is a vast country; you can accommodate but you don’t have much. But in our country… we have 1.1 million Rohingya. So well… we are consulting with the international community and also our neighbouring countries, they should also take some steps so that they can go back home,” Hasina said.

The Bangladesh prime minister said that her government had tried to take care of the displaced community keeping the humanitarian aspect in mind.

“This Rohingya, yes… on humanitarian grounds we give them shelter and providing everything but during this COVID, we vaccinated all the Rohingya community. But how long they will stay here? So in the camp they are staying. Our environment hazard is there. Then some people engage in drug trafficking or some arms conflict, women trafficking. Day by day it is increasing. So as quick as they return home it is good for our country and also for Myanmar. So we have been trying our best to pursue them, we’re discussing with them and also the international community, like ASEAN or UNO, then other countries,” Hasina said.

The Bangladesh prime minister said that her country had offered shelter to the Rohingya when they were facing many troubles. “But now they should go back to their country. But India as a neighbour country, they can play a big role on it, I feel that,” Hasina added.

During the interview, Hasina was also asked about her country’s cooperation with India on river water sharing especially with regard to Teesta river. Hasina said that while there were challenges, they were not anything which could not be resolved mutually.

“It is very sad that, we are in a… you know… downstream. So water is coming from India, so India should show more broadness. Because both the countries will be beneficiaries. So sometimes our people suffered a lot because of this need of water. Especially Teesta, we could not go for harvest and so many problems took place. So I think it should be solved but, yes we found that the Prime Minister is very… you know… eager to solve this problem, but the problem is in your country. So… we hope that it should, you know… it should be solved,” Hasina said.

She added that the two countries shared the water of the river Ganges. “Only Ganges water we share. The water, we signed the treaty. But we have another 54 rivers. Yes… So it’s a long standing problem, so it should be solved,” she said.

Also read: Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina to arrive in India on September 5, likely to visit Ajmer also