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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Bengali Muslims in no-man's land
nasima and her family
Nasima says her home in Gujarat was set on fire

Nearly 200 Bengali-speaking Muslims, who fled riots in the Indian city of Ahmedabad, have turned up in south-west Bangladesh.


I saw people being killed in front of me

Nasima
They are waiting in villages near Narail to be recognised by the government as Bangladeshi citizens.

The refugees claim they were originally from Bangladesh and went to Ahmedabad to escape extreme poverty at home.

Government officials say they need to verify the identities of the refugees before accepting their claim of citizenship.

Refugees at the Shah Alam refugee camp
Muslims in Ahmedabad have lost everything
Bishnupur is a quiet village about 2,000 kilometres (1250 miles) away from Ahmedabad.

But strangely enough, many families in this remote village had relations who had lived and worked there for decades.

Perhaps nobody would have known that so many Bangladeshis from this village had gone to Gujarat as economic migrants unless communal violence had forced them back home.

Poverty trap

The first small batch of riot victims turned up in Bishnupur largely unnoticed.

But as communal violence continued in Gujarat, more groups of men, women and children began to arrive, and the local officials and media could no longer ignore them.


It was poverty, extreme poverty that forced us to leave the country

Nasima
So far the local administration has identified 93 people who claim to be Gujarat riot victims.

But officials believe the number of refugees could be higher, as more refugees in several other villages are yet to be identified and listed.

Nasima, a mother of five, told how she had ended up in Ahmedabad nearly five years ago after leaving her village in Bangladesh.

" It was poverty, extreme poverty that forced us to leave the country," she told the BBC.

"My husband could not earn bread for the family. One day we decided to cross the border to India with the hope of finding a job.

"We went to Ahmedabad, where many people from our village had already migrated."

Attacked

Nasima and her husband worked as vegetable vendors in Ahmedabad.

They lived in a slum near the Shah Alam Dorgah, a shrine of a Muslim saint.

nasima
Nasima: House set alight
"During the riots, a group of men attacked our house and set fire to it.

"We took shelter in the compound of the Shah Alam Dorgah."

Nasima said: "I saw people being killed in front of me. At least two Bangladeshis were killed in the riot, who I knew personally."

As the communal violence spiralled out of control, they finally decided to return home.

They travelled for six days, in trains and buses, and ended up in Bishnupur, which they say is their home village.

Red tape

In Bishnupur many villagers identified Nasima as their neighbour, and provided her family with food and shelter.

However, the government is still reluctant to recognise the refugees as Bangladeshi nationals.

Ahsan Habib, an official of the local administration, said: "We have to verify the claims by the refugees.

"We need to check the voters' list and see if they had paid any council tax when they were here. These things require time."

Many people believe the apparent reluctance to recognise the refugees as Bangladeshis is because it may lend credence to Indian claims that many Bangladeshi immigrants work illegally in Indian cities.

Gujarat conflict in-depth

Key vote

Tense state

Background

BBC WORLD SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

25 Apr 02 | South Asia
16 Apr 02 | South Asia
15 Mar 02 | South Asia
28 Feb 02 | South Asia
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