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As Pakistan Refuses To Take Biharis Stranded In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Plans To Improve Their Life

Hasina Government Plans To Arrange For Better Accommodation And Employment Opportunities

Main Points:

1.    Stranded Pakistanis live in refugee camps in 13 districts of Bangladesh.

2.    One lakh stranded Pakistanis live in Geneva camp in Dhaka.

3.    Only 5 per cent Biharis have formal education.

4.    They live in inhuman conditions.


By New Age Islam Staff Writer

9 March 2022


(Photo: The Dawn, Pakistan)


For more than 3 lakh Urdu-speaking Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh since 1971, Bangladesh has become a second home as they have lost hope of returning to Pakistan. They live in small rooms in congested camps called Geneva camps in 13 districts of Bangladesh, the largest in Dhaka with about one hundred thousand Biharis.

These Urdu- speaking Pakistanis bear the stigma of supporting Pakistan during the Liberation War and so have had to live as outcastes in Bangladesh. In fact, they themselves do not consider them Bangladeshi though they have lived in the country for the last fifty years and now their sons and grandsons have been living with them.

In 1972, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh had ruled them Bangladeshi citizens but the majority of them chose to be repatriated to Pakistan. But in 1978, the Pakistan government officially stripped them of Pakistani citizenship. As a result, they became outcastes in both Bangladesh and Pakistan.

In Bangladesh, they are not allowed to enrol in schools and colleges and so they run their own schools in the Geneva camps. They have to work as daily wagers and technicians. The Bangladesh government has issued voter cards to them for its own electoral interests. It can't be used for obtaining passports. They live in unhygienic conditions in small rooms with the family.

Unfortunately, the attitude of Pakistani people and the government has been hostile to them. Though the Pakistan government had agreed on their repatriation in 1992 and some Biharis were repatriated too but due to the opposition of Sindhis and Punjabis, further repatriation was suspended. The Sindhi nationalist organisation Jayey Sindh not only opposed the repatriation but also exploded bombs in the Bihari colonies and shops. They fear that the repatriation and settlement of Biharis in Sindh would tilt the demographic balance.


Biharis in the Mohamedpour refugee camp in Dacca, Dec. 22, 1971. (AP)


The Interior Minister of Pakistan Naseerullah Babur was opposed to their repatriation and had said in 1995 that the Biharis would not be able to come to Pakistan as long as he was in power.

Therefore, Pakistan government deported about 300 Biharis from Bangladesh in ,November 1995. But Bangladesh also said it would not accept them and deport them back to Pakistan.

Though Rabita Alam Islami of Makkah had got involved in the repatriation process but it could not convince Pakistan government to take all the stranded Pakistanis back. During the last 30 years only around two thousand Biharis have been accepted by Pakistan but the general aversion of Pakistanis and politicians towards them is an obstacle in their repatriation.

In 1999, Nawaz Sharif had said that though his country does not consider the Biharis of Geneva camps Pakistani citizens, he would take them on humanitarian grounds. But that proved only lip service and no concrete steps were taken in that direction.

The stranded Biharis have protested against the delay in their repatriation in Bangladesh a number of times and have also staged hunger strikes but they have received cold shoulder from both the governments. They did not want the partition of Pakistan and have not left their Urdu language and culture though the new generation learns Bangali and wants to assimilate into the Bangladeshi society. Many of them have accepted Bangladeshi citizenship but the majority still considers Pakistan their own country.

In the camps also all is not well. Sometimes, Bengali nationalist leaders instigate riots against them with an eye to capturing land. Sometimes, the Bangladesh government also demolishes some shelters on the charges of criminal activity in the camps.


View of the Bangladesh government run camp for members of the Bihari minority on March 4, 1972. (AP)


Sometimes there are violent feuds among the groups of Biharis in the camps. The Nasim and Ejaz groups often engage in violent clashes.

Sheikh Hasina's recent announcement, gives some hope of improvement in the lives of stranded Pakistanis. She has said that she sees human beings as human beings and wants to see stranded Pakistanis lead a better life. Her government will provide opportunities for employment to those who possess skills and better accommodation where they can live with comfort and dignity.

However, it is not an easy task for her. If her government really wants to improve their life and their assimilation into Bengali society, the stranded Biharis should be provided opportunities for vocational training and special training institutes should be established for them. Housing complexes should be built for them with all modern amenities. Schools and colleges should be opened for them and medical facilities should be provided to them

The role of Rabita Alam Islami and OIC has not been up to the mark. The OIC has not taken up the issue of stranded Pakistanis as fervently as it takes up the Kashmir issue perhaps because it does not generate much political gains for one of its active members Pakistan.

Sheikh Hasina has rightly pointed out that many organisations collected funds for the cause of stranded Pakistanis but much was not done with those funds. She was perhaps hinting at the fund set up by Urdu newspaper of Pakistan Nawa-e-Waqt for the welfare of the stranded Pakistanis and millions of rupees are collected from Pakistani citizens but the newspaper does not give any information on the use of the fund.

Sheikh Hasina's resolve to do something for the welfare of stranded Pakistanis is commendable but to bring a real change in their lives, her government has to take some revolutionary steps. The new generations of stranded Pakistanis should not be held responsible for the historical mistakes of some Pakistani politicians and religious fanatics.


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