Forgotten People in Bangladesh

Since December 16, 1971 nearly 250,000 Pakistanis, commonly known as Biharis, have been stranded in Bangladesh, confined to living in 66 camps spread across 13 districts. Their only crime was being on the losing side of a political argument. When Pakistan was formed in 1947, these people migratedfrom the Muslim minority provinces of India to East Pakistan.

The Independence of Bangladesh was not the end of their suffering. While the Pakistan Army, along with some civilians and their families, managed a safe passage to India as POWs, these people were abandoned and left to fend for themselves.They had survived the East Pakistan disturbances of 1971, but were victimized and killed, rooted out of their homes and businesses. They still remain in Bangladesh, living in crudely built shacks and still awaiting repatriation to Pakistan, the country they love and belong to.

The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) conducted a survey enquiringwhere these abandoned peoplewould like to live, either in Pakistan or continue in Bangladesh and nearly 540,000 of the surviving Urdu speaking Pakistanis opted to migrate to Pakistan, but were not accepted there.

In 1972, approximately 173,000 Pakistanis were airlifted to Pakistan as per Tripartite
Agreement in Delhiamongst Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.This still left nearly 250,000 stranded peopleawaiting repatriation to Pakistan and presently Pakistan has still not accepted them.

In 1988 a Trust was established following an agreement between the government of Pakistan and the Muslim World League for the repatriation of these stranded Pakistanis.And then in 1992, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and Prime Minister of Pakistan issued a joint communique that these 250,000 individuals be repatriated to Pakistan. But due to frequent changes in thepolitical climate of Pakistan, this humanitarian issue remains unresolved.

Presently, no help is visible on the horizon for these ill-fated people, not even basic shelter, food, educationor medicine.The grim question remains: where can these forgotten people make their homes, provide security for their families and continue on with their lives?

It is evident that this issue has festered enough and the unsettling questions before Pakistan and the international community linger: should they continue to languish like this forever? Will the day ever dawn when their sustained loyalty and patriotism for Pakistan will be redeemed? Will their long patience for honorable settlement in Pakistan ever be rewarded?Do we understand our responsibilities ashuman beings to help these forgotten people? We hope the answer is a resounding yes and we work together to provide these stranded people with a better life and a new hope.