UK Labour’s Keir Starmer caused diplomatic row over Bangladesh comments

Bangladesh sent a letter to Starmer clarifying its numbers on removing undocumented Bangladeshis

Areeb Ullah

British opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer during an election campaign event in Stevenage, north of London, on 28 May 2024 (Reuters)

The leader of the UK’s Labour Party, Keir Starmer, caused a diplomatic row with Bangladesh when he questioned why Britain was unable to deport Bangladeshi asylum seekers from Britain.

In a letter seen by Middle East Eye, the top Bangladeshi diplomat in London, High Commissioner Saida Muna Tasneem, complained to Starmer about comments he made during a debate hosted by the Sun newspaper. 

In the letter, Tasneem said prominent Bangladeshi leaders in the UK raised concerns with her over his comments and pushed back on claims that Britain was unable to send back any Bangladeshi asylum seekers.

“You will be glad to learn that Bangladesh High Commission London, responsible for returns of Bangladesh overstayers in the UK, enjoys a brilliant track record of timely and orderly returns,” Tasneem said in her letter sent to Starmer on Wednesday. 

“During the recently concluded first meeting of the Bangladesh-UK Home Office Joint Working Group [it was testified] that not a single case of returns is pending to date.

“Bangladesh was never in the list of top 20 countries with highest numbers of small boat arrivals.”

Despite the criticism, the letter also praises Starmer for his engagement with the Bangladeshi community. 

The Labour Party and Bangladesh High Commission did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publishing. 

Starmer has since apologised for any upset caused to the Bangladeshi community, which constitutes a significant number within his Holborn and St Pancras constituency in London.

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In addition to clarifying his comments to British outlets, Starmer gave an exclusive interview to Bangladeshi community channel ATN Bangla to apologise again. 

“I wasn’t intending to single out Bangladesh. I was just thinking about the sort of countries that we were working with in relation to asylum claims, and therefore, it was sort of in front of mind,” Starmer told ATN Bangla. 

Starmer’s comments also created a row within the Labour Party after prominent members of Bangladeshi origin criticised him and left the party in protest at his comments. 

Last May, Bangladesh and Britain signed an agreement to fast-track removals of undocumented Bangladeshis living in the UK. 

The new agreement means undocumented Bangladeshi nationals will not be required to do an interview when being returned to Bangladesh. 

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