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Bangladeshi cancer patients stranded in India

sam special 9-5-2020

Kolkata Saroj Gupta Cancer and Research Institute

A number of Bangladesh cancer patients stranded in India do not want to return to their country as they fear that they will not be able to continue their medical treatment back home.

Though the Bangladesh government has been making efforts to repatriate thousands of stranded Bangladeshis from India, there are a large number of people, including cancer patients, who are in a catch-22 situation. They say that they are caught between two similar and uncertain situations from which they have to choose one. They want to stay back in India and but at the same time, want either the Bangladesh or the Indian government to provide financial help to continue their medical treatment.

Thousands of Bangladeshi tourists, short-term visitors, people on business, students and those seeking medical treatment, are stranded in India since March 25due to the country-wide lockdown imposed by the Central government to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.

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More than 2,000 Bangladesh nationals, including students and people who had come for medical treatment, have been repatriated by the Bangladesh government from a number of Indian cities on commercial flights in two earlier phases. But hundreds of others who could not make it are struggling with health, shelter, and food insecurities. The resource-strained, high-risk foreign environment adds to their agony.

Bangladeshi diplomats in India, however, say that they are working with the Indian authorities to rescue the remaining Bangladeshis stuck in the country.

“The foreign office staff back in Dhaka and the staff in the Bangladesh missions across India have been working diligently with the Indian authorities to repatriate Bangladesh nationals who are stuck in India and want to return home,” an official at the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Kolkata, who didn’t want to be named, told South Asian Monitor.

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The Bangladesh national carrier Biman Bangladesh will operate four more special rescue flights in coordination with the Bangladesh missions in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, depending on the availability of passengers, the diplomat said.

“Our mission’s staff are continuingly supporting those Bangladeshis who still remain in India and are also taking up cases of Bangladesh nationals who are facing legal issues, including people who have overstayed their short-term visas,” the diplomat said.

“Bangladesh missions are collating the details of all its nationals still stuck in India,” the diplomat said, when asked about the total number stranded in India.

Repatriation flights will be operated from Kolkata on May 10, from Mumbai on May 12, Bengaluru-Dhaka route on May 13 and Delhi-Dhaka route on May 14, the Bangladesh High Commission in Delhi said.

Besides, privately-operated US-Bangla Airlines will operate five special repatriation flights from the southern Indian city of Chennai, where a large number Bangladeshi nationals–who are in India either for medical treatment or are students pursuing higher studies-are stranded, it said.

“The US-Bangla flights will be operated between May 8 and May 10 and again between May 13 and May 14. Bangladeshis who are willing to return home are requested to contact the airlines.

“Talks are on with the Indian authorities to operate special buses between Kolkata and Dhaka through the Petrapole-Benapole Indo-Bangladesh border land port, depending on the approval of the Indian authorities,” a Bangladesh diplomat told SAM over phone.

Cancer patients

Meanwhile, a number of Bangladesh nationals in Kolkata for treatment of cancer are caught in a peculiar situation. With no money, and practically no help from either the Deputy High Commission of Bangladesh in Kolkata, or the authorities back home, they are living thanks to the charitable owner of a guest house near the Suroj Gupta Cancer Centre and Research Institute at Thakupukur on the outskirts of Kolkata.

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Stranded in Kolkata with no money to either return to Bangladesh or even to continue with treatment of his wife, who is suffering from breast cancer, is Khudiram Das, 65, from Bogra in Bangladesh.

“Whatever little money that was left since the lockdown, has been exhausted. My wife needs chemotherapy every two weeks and we have learnt that once we return to Bangladesh, we will be quarantined for two weeks and that will hamper my wife’s treatment,” Das told South Asian Monitor.     

“We are in such a situation that either way makes life very uncertain for us. Back in Bangladesh there is no advanced treatment available for cancer unlike in India. We are fortunate that a pharmaceutical shop near the hospital is giving credit, but how long can they do so?” asked Das.

Returning to Bangladesh will mean no treatment for his wife and staying back in India will mean starvation, Das says. According to him he and his ailing wife are being forced to skip meals in order to stretch their remaining funds.

“Our kind-hearted landlord says we can pay once things are normal. But will they ever be normal?” Das wonders. He has not received any response to appeals for help from his country’s diplomatic mission in Kolkata.

Like Das, fellow Bangladeshi, Md. Muzammel Hossain, is among hundreds of others waiting to find out if and when they can go home. Hossain, suffering from cancer, is left to fend for himself with no money to buy even medicines. He says he is facing grave uncertainties, especially because his visa is about to expire.

“My medical visa expires on May 11, and I have contacted the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Kolkata for help but none has come until now,” said Hossain from Madhupur in Tangail. He is staying in the same guest house as Das.

Hossain says that his brother-in-law had accompanied him from Tangail, but had left at the first opportunity after the Indian authorities clamped the country-wide lockdown. “I was in the hospital, undergoing chemotherapy, when my brother-in-law packed and left for Bangladesh, leaving me alone to fend for myself,” Hossain told South Asian Monitor.

Like Das, the 33-year-old Hossain too is worried if he will he be able to continue with his treatment for cancer after returning to Bangladesh.

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At the cancer centre, which is popularly known as the Thakurpukur Cancer Hospital, the treatment is erratic due to the Covid-19 lockdown. “I had been tested for Covid-19, but fortunately I tested negative. Now, I have to pay more for my treatment and feel abandoned by my own government,” Hossain said, adding that unless his medical visa is renewed, he may be deported to Bangladesh.

Another Bangladeshi national, who is staying at the guest house with his wife, and in India for treatment of cancer, is Bhaskar Choudhury Arup from Sylhet. The 44-year-old Choudhury says he feels betrayed by the Bangladesh government, and wants to appeal to Mamata Banerjee-the Chief Minister of West Bengal-for  financial help to pay hospital bills, as he and his wife are left with no resources.

“There are three people left at the Thakurpukur Cancer Centre from Bangladesh at present. The others have already returned to Bangladesh,” Choudhury said.

“We appeal to Mamata Banerjee to give us a rebate so that we can survive and carry on with the treatment,” Choudhury, who himself has had an open-heart surgery, told South Asian Monitor. Choudhury adds that no help has come from the Bangladesh authorities.

Though the stranded Bangladesh nationals are eager to return home once they complete their medical treatment in India, they feel that they are being discriminated against and abandoned by their own government. Bangladesh diplomats in India, however, say that priority on the rescue flights and buses will be given to the most vulnerable sections.

“There is no guarantee who would get a place in the third phase of repatriation. But we want all Bangladesh nationals to safely return home,” the diplomat quoted earlier, told South Asian Monitor.