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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 04:51 GMT 05:51 UK
Mixed feelings over Bihari ruling
By Alastair Lawson
BBC correspondent in Dhaka

There is both optimism and pessimism - depending on the generation difference - among the 300,000 refugees in Bangladesh known locally as Biharis or stranded Pakistanis.

Mohammed Kalil (L) and Sakil Hossain (R)
Mohammed Kalil (L) and Sakil Hossain (R) see things differently
Younger people are elated over a recent high court ruling which, for the first time, allowed 10 Biharis to assume Bangladeshi citizenship and have voting rights.

But older people despair at the enthusiasm of many of those born after the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence to stay in Bangladesh.

They say their true home is in Pakistan.

There are just fewer than 300,000 Biharis located in more than 60 camps in Dhaka and across the country.

They are Urdu-speaking people from the Indian state of Bihar who moved to Bengal at the time of partition.


During the Bangladesh war of independence they supported Pakistan, but were denied permission to emigrate.

As a result, they faced widespread discrimination in Bengali speaking Bangladesh.

Even today they say its harder for them to get jobs or get their children into schools.

Bihari boys in Geneva camp
Young people were born after Bangladesh was formed
But the mood among young people has brightened since the high court accepted a petition by a group of Biharis who live in the Geneva camp of central Dhaka, one of the main refugee camps in the country.

The camp is notorious for its cramped conditions, poor sanitation and shortages of electricity and running water.

Most people eat in communal areas with kitchens similar to those found in countless other refugee camps around the world.

But despite the deprivations, the court ruling has inspired an upbeat attitude among young people such as 21 year-old Sakil Hossain.


"I was born and bred here. I consider Bangladesh my home, even though conditions in the camp are tough and we are often discriminated against because we are not Bengalis," he said.

He says the judgement has increased hopes that people him will be given Bangladeshi citizenship.

"If there was a war or a national crisis, I would be prepared to die for my country. Surely that is enough to give me citizenship," he said.

But while Sakil Hossain remains ever hopeful, his family's life long friend, 67 year-old Mohammed Kalil, is downbeat.

Children playing a game
For Bihari children, this is the only life they have known
"I have been here since 1960 and for much of that time it has been a life of hardship for me," he said.

"I want to go to Pakistan because here I don't have any land, any facilities or any future."

Mr Kalil's wife and two children went to Pakistan in 1973 but because he was working outside Dhaka at the time he was unable to accompany them.

By the time he had filled in the necessary paperwork the Pakistan authorities refused to allow him, arguing there was not enough room for any more Biharis.


He is one of thousands of older refugees whose families have been separated in similar circumstances.

Mr Kalil says: "I was born in what was then East Pakistan even if I have never been to the western part. I still consider myself a Pakistani, I do not belong here."

Meanwhile lawyers say that they intend to get citizenship for more Biharis at the earliest opportunity.

"Their citizenship cannot be taken away just because they live in a refugee camp or because some of them may want to go to Pakistan," said Saffiq Chowdhury, one of the lawyers representing them.

"Its time that justice was finally given to these people who time and governments have forgot."

Vote for 'stranded Pakistanis'
06 May 03  |  South Asia
Bengali Muslims in no-man's land
24 May 02  |  South Asia
Biharis demand Pakistan repatriation
28 Jul 02  |  South Asia

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