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Miseries of stranded 'Bihari' refugees in Bangladesh
Even after 46 years of the emergence of Bangladesh, about 3 lakh stateless Pakistani Muslims known as 'Biharis' in Bangladesh are waiting to return to Pakistan. Originally they belong to 15 lakh Urdu speaking Muslims and Bihari community, which had migrated to erstwhile East Pakistan mainly from Bihar and West Bengal during partition of Indian sub-continent in August 1947.

After emergence of Bangladesh in December 1971, 'Biharis' being Urdu speaking and West Pakistani supporters, preferred to migrate Pakistan. Notably, during the International Convention on 'Biharis' held in Geneva in 1982, stranded Bangladeshi 'Biharis' were referred to as non-Bangladeshi or stranded Pakistanis.

However, Pakistan denied all such 'Biharis' of their legitimate right and refused to allow remaining 3 lakh stateless 'Bihari' Muslims to join their kith and kiln in Pakistan.

During Bangladesh war, majority of 'Biharis' had supported Pakistan and consequently faced discrimination in Bangladesh. They were accused of joining West Pakistani armed forces in ruthless genocides of Bengalis during the Bangladesh war. Some paramilitary forces of West Pakistan army like 'Al-Shams', 'Al-Badar' and 'Razakars', who were in forefront of killing Bengalis during the liberation war also reportedly comprised of Biharis.

Meanwhile, Biharis became symbol of West Pakistan's dominance over Bengalis of East Pakistan. It was estimated that about 1.5 lakh Urdu speaking non-Bengalis and 'Biharis' were killed in retaliation at the hands of 'Mukti Bahini'.

Presently over three lakh Urdu speaking Pakistani Bihari refugees are stranded in Bangladesh. They are virtually cut-off from Bangladesh and unwanted in Pakistan. Despite being Muslims, culturally and socially they do not share much with Bangladeshis. While less than two lakh 'Biharis' have migrated to Pakistan since 1974, remaining are living in pitiable conditions in camps in around Dhaka as since 1993 no further migration of 'Biharis' to Pakistan took place.

Stranded'Biharis' in Bangladesh were not acceptable either to Bangladeshi rulers like nor to Pakistan as late Z.A. Bhutto had asserted that to relocate Bangladeshi 'Biharis' was primarily responsibility of 'Muslim Ummah' or brotherhood and former Prime Minister of Bangladesh Khalida Zia had described them as "disturbing elements".

Since Bangladesh's independence about 177,000 Biharis had been repatriated to Pakistan mostly with the monetarily help of over US$250 million given by Saudi Arabia based charitable organizations viz; Rabita al-Alami al-Islami and Motamar Al-Alam Al-Islami.

In Pakistan, first fifty thousand migrated Biharis were located mainly in a colony in Mian Channu Tehsil in Khanewal District in Punjab province, later on some parts of Karachi and Sindh also. Last migration of stranded 'Biharis' in Bangladesh to Pakistan took place in 1993, when merely three hundred 'Biharis' got migrated. Since then migration of remaining over three lakh stranded'Biharis' in Bangladesh was stalled due to lack of commitment on the part of Pakistani government as well, as it was policy not to repatriate remaining 'Biharis' from Bangladesh.

Successive Pakistani rulers, from General Zia to Nawaz Sharif kept on assuring all Bangladeshi 'Biharis' of their repatriation to Pakistan, which did not materialize completely till date. 'Biharis' were also assured of repatriation to Pakistan in 'Shimla agreement' of 1972 signed between India and Pakistan after emergence of Bangladesh.

In 1978, Gen Zia had assured to bring back all stranded 'Biharis' to Pakistan then in 1988 Saudi Arabia based 'The Motamar Al-Alam Al-Islami' collected lot of funds for the same purpose but still all 'Biharis' from Bangladesh were not brought to Pakistan. Pakistan again announced the similar assurance in November 1991 then during the then Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khalida Zia's visit to Pakistan in August 1992 it was announced by both the countries that remaining 'Biharis' would be airlifted to Pakistan but this too did not happen.

Finally on March 30, 2015, Pakistan put the curtain on the issue of Bangladeshi 'Biharis' from its side, when the Pakistan Supreme Court was informed by the Pakistan Ministry of External Affairs that remaining stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh, most of them were 'Biharis' were not the responsibility of Pakistan as large number of 'non-Bengalis' had already been repatriated.

Supreme Court was also informed that Pakistan had already repatriated over 170,000 'Biharis' prior to Bangladesh Supreme Court's decisions of 2003 and 2008 in which 'Biharis' were inter alia declared as citizens of Bangladesh. It was further claimed that a large number of 'Biharis' had acquired Bangladeshi passport and they even exercised their right to vote in December 2008 and January 2014 elections in Bangladesh.

Furthermore, Supreme Court of Pakistan was told that in accordance to thePakistan citizenship Act 1951, persons living in East Pakistan voluntarily or otherwise after December16, 1971 shall cease to be citizens of Pakistan. This was eventually a contradictory position of Pakistan on Bangladeshi Biharis' repatriation to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, about forty-one thousand families of over three lakh Pakistani Biharis are located in 66 refugee camps, around the capital city of Dhaka and other parts of Bangladesh including in Narayanganj, Syedpur, Rangpur and Chittagong. While maximum number of 69,767 Biharis were living in Dhaka, the minimum number of 288 Biharis were living in Rajbari in 2009.

The Mohammadpur Camp in Dhaka is the largest camp for Biharis in Bangladesh, in which over 25,000 Biharis were living in single room accommodations. Condition of Bihari camps in Bangladesh is so pathetic that because of poor health facilities every year a number of people die due to epidemics of diarrhoea and dysentery. Such camps are also highly infested with social evils. The local police failed to maintain law and order in such Bihari camps where illegal slaughter houses, illegal distillers of local liquor and brothels openly exist.

These stranded Biharis were waiting for the day to be with their separated relatives in Pakistan, which now seems to be a remote possibility. Since forty seven years, two generations of 'Biharis' are living miserable life in filthy camps, suffering from malnutrition and diseases emanated due to unhygienic living conditions. They are subjected to social and economic discrimination and treated as a second class citizen.

Moreover, attitude of Pakistani politicians, rulers and army generals towards the issue of stranded Pakistani 'Biharis' in Bangladesh had been deplorable. Nothing is left for them except to face their fate in 'unfriendly' conditions.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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