Britain's Labour party has been forced to issue a clarification on comments made by its leader Keir Starmer regarding the removal of Bangladeshi migrants from the UK, as reports emerged of outrage among members of the British-Bangladeshi community ahead of next week's general election.

In a town hall-style interview with readers of The Sun, a right wing tabloid, earlier this week, Starmer said: "At the moment people coming from countries like Bangladesh are not being removed because they're not being processed."

He was being asked about Labour's rejection of the Conservative government policy of deporting migrants who arrive in the UK illegally in small boats to Rwanda. Starmer was trying to explain his policy would be to send illegal migrants back to their countries of origin.

"The number of people being returned to where they came from has dropped off by 44 percent under this government. So on the first few days of government, I'll tell you what I do, I'll put the staff back in the returns unit, I'll make sure I've got planes going off, not to Rwanda because that's an expensive gimmick," the Labour leader said.

Asked where the migrants would go, Starmer, who is being described as a 'prime minister in waiting', replied: "They will go back to the countries where people come from. That's what used to happen." He then made the reference to Bangladeshi migrants.

A clip of the interaction described by news website Politics Home, that has reportedly been distributed on WhatsApp groups, shows Starmer talking of "people coming from countries like Bangladesh" but does not explicitly specify that he is referring to people without permission to settle in the UK.

At the end of the video, a message reads: "Don't vote for Labour on 4 July. Vote for Independent candidates."

Pro-Palestinian independent candidates are standing against Labour in a number of seats across England in the UK's election, and regard voters disillusioned with Labour as their most likely supporters.

The Labour party in a statement said: "Keir has proudly supported the Bangladeshi community across the UK, who make an enormous contribution to our country. This clip has been edited to make it look as though Keir Starmer is suggesting repatriation of British Bangladeshis. It is misinformation.

"In fact, Keir is referring to Labour's long established policy of returning those who don't have the legal right to be in the UK to safe countries. Bangladesh was only used as an example, as there is already a bilateral agreement between the two countries."

The reference is to a new agreement signed between the two governments in May "to speed up the removal of migrants with no right to be in the country" by removing a mandatory interview in cases "where there is good supporting evidence for removal".

The UK and Bangladesh held their first ever Joint Working Group meeting on Home Affairs at the British Home Office in London and signed the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on Returns, UNB reported at the time.

Nevertheless, the traditional support for Labour within the Bangladeshi community in the UK was set to be tested, as another candidate for the party in next week's elections, Jon Ashworth, a member of Starmer's shadow cabinet in the last parliament, also told the BBC this week that a Labour government would send migrants "from countries like Bangladesh or wherever" back to their countries of origin.

The reaction within Starmer's own party has been stark. Labour has seven candidates of Bangladeshi origin standing in the election on July 4. Four of them were incumbent MPs till parliament was dissolved ahead of the election.

Rushanara Ali - the first British-Bangladeshi MP in the House of Commons and Shadow Minister - said in a message circulated online: "There has been considerable concern and upset following the release of a clip of the Labour Party leader. I have been in close contact with his team to relay the concerns in our community".

Apsana Begum, the Labour candidate standing for re-election in Poplar and Limehouse, tweeted a video of herself - in English and in Sylheti - criticising politicians using "dog-whistle racism against Bangladeshis".

Stepney Green Councillor Sabina Akhtar, deputy leader of Labour's Tower Hamlets unit, handed in her resignation. "I was a proud Labour party member, but I find I cannot be proud of this party anymore when the leader singles out my community and insults my Bangladeshi identity," she said in a statement.

Paula Barker, who is re-standing to be the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, tweeted: "Bangladeshis do not come here illegally. Their contribution to our national life and our community here in Liverpool is immeasurable. I will always stand with them now and always".

Starmer and Ashworth's comments have been described as racist dog whistles that have left members of the British-Bangladeshi community "seething with anger".

In the 2021 census, there were a total of 652,535 Bangladeshis in the United Kingdom, around 1% of the total population. Nearly half of the population live in London, and the community is regarded as the driving force behind Britain's $5 billion curry industry.

Immigration is a hot-button issue in this year's election in the UK, with the status of asylum seekers a particular concern for some voters. British government statistics show that the top countries of origin of people seeking asylum in the UK are Afghanistan, Iran and India, with Bangladesh ranking seventh.

Labour currently enjoys a big lead in the polls, and is expected to win the election ending 14 years of Conservative rule. But both parties are trying to avoid leaking votes to the newly-formed Reform party, that has set out its stall almost entirely around a pledge to drastically reduce net migration into the UK.

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