Bangladeshi community protest and demand apology from Keir Starmer over immigration comments

Reporter: Charlotte Hall, Local Democracy Reporter
Date published: 03 July 2024

Protestors gathered in Oldham yesterday (Tuesday) to demand an apology from Sir Keir Starmer after claims the Labour leader ‘singled out’ Bangladesh in a debate about immigration.

Members of the Oldham Bangladeshi community said his words had ‘deeply wounded’ and ‘alienated’ them.

The protest came as Starmer faces continued backlash over comments he made at an election showdown last week, in which he said “people coming from countries like Bangladesh are not being removed because they are not being processed”. 

The Labour party have suggested his words were taken out of context, with Starmer admitting his wording was ‘clumsy’ but that he ‘meant no offence’. 

But Mohammad Jahid Miah attended the protest and said: “Everybody is hurt. 

“We don’t just want – we demand an apology.

"Considering he wants to be the next leader of the government, this feels like a betrayal.” 

Local councillor Montaz Ali Azad said: “We are protesting because we are not the only immigrants.

"There are people here from so many countries. Why single us out?”

Coun Azad organised the ‘spontaneous’ and peaceful protest, which was attended by more than 60 people and was visited by a number of general election candidates.

Protestors carried the Bangladeshi flag and held talks about anti-racism. 

Two police officers were also present to ‘keep the peace’. 

Ahad Ullah Shah, a local artist and marketing agent, thought the comments could cost Labour at the polling stations because of the injury caused to the Bangladeshi community – who account for around nine percent of Oldham’s population. 

Ullah Shah said: “What he’s said now has hurt our hearts. We’ve put so much into this country. We work here.

"We pay tax. We contribute to the country. And now he’s making comments about Bangladeshis being sent back.” 

Ullah Shah acknowledged that Starmer was not talking about British Bangladeshis, but felt he’d taken aim at the wider community. 

He said: “Obviously he’s not talking about us.

"But why would someone single out Bengalis right before an election, when he needs our votes?” 

Anger rose across the country after a clip of the comment was circulated on social media sites, causing a deputy leader of a council in London to quit the party and a Bangladeshi diplomat to reportedly complain to the Labour leader.

But the party has argued the video was ‘heavily edited’ and ‘misrepresentative’. 

A Labour spokesperson said:  “Those who watched the original interview could see that Keir was referring to Labour’s long established policy of returning those who don’t have a legal right to be in the U.K. to safe countries.”

In an interview, Starmer added: “I didn’t intend to cause any offence and I’m genuinely concerned if that is the case because the Bangladeshi community in this country has made a huge contribution to our economy, our culture, and our country.”

And Anwar Choudhury, the Bangladeshi High Commissioner, has also defended Starmer, urging the community to ‘ignore this misinformation’.  

Choudhury said: “[The video] seems to imply that Keir is suggesting the repatriation of British Bangladeshis.

"That is nonsense. I know Keir is a friend of Bangladesh and a friend of the British Bangladeshi community.”

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