The government of Nawaz Sharif is again under pressure to bring home the stranded Pakistanis living in miserable conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh. The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday asked the government to submit a reply by February 18 regarding the repatriation of 300,000 Pakistanis stranded in some 70 camps in Bangladesh.
For 43 years, two or three generations of these unfortunate individuals (often callously referred to as Biharis) have been living a life of misery, malnutrition and in appalling unhygienic conditions. They are waiting for some caring and conscientious government to help them come over to Pakistan. In the past, just about every head of government made a promise to bring them to Pakistan but never came good on it.
In 2009 a petition was filed by Advocate Rashid-ul-Haq Qazi as a representative of the Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee and the Organization for Repatriation of Stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh. The Supreme Court, after five years in May 2014, admitted the petition for hearing; however, the attitude of the government is to postpone the humanitarian issue, as the Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Salman Aslam Butt, sought more time from the court to file a reply claiming that he was unaware of the court notice issued in this regard.
On Tuesday, Rashidul Haq Qazi, counsel for the SPGRC, submitted that approximately 160,000 stranded Pakistanis were repatriated to Pakistan in term of Tripartite Dehli Agreement, signed between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but later on Pakistan has not fulfilled 25 percent of the terms of agreement and repatriation was stopped unilaterally in 1974 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime.
He contended that last time on January 10, 1993, a group of 325 stranded Pakistanis were repatriated and rehabilitated in province of the Punjab. He further informed the court that stranded Pakistanis in the Bangladesh had declined to accept the nationality of India and Bangladesh due to their patriotic approach to Pakistan.
Who are stranded Pakistanis?
Stranded Pakistanis, also known as Biharis, stood for a united Pakistan and refused to integrate into the new country. Hence, Bengalis, the original residents of Bangladesh, were not ready to forgive them because of their opposition to the creation of the new state.
According to Refugees International Organization, Bangladesh is home to thousands of Urdu-speaking minorities who during the country's civil war with Pakistan took the side of Pakistan, losing their homes, jobs and positions in society and were forced eventually to take up residence in more than 100 overcrowded and now dilapidated urban-camp settlements. Many of the Urdu-speaking minority hoped to be permitted to move to Pakistan, but only a small percentage were admitted; some continue to cling to the hope that Pakistan will relent and admit them to reunite with their families in Pakistan.
For almost 43 years, the camp residents remain stateless, non-citizens of Bangladesh or Pakistan. They were denied access to government services, including education, formal employment, property ownership, and driver's licenses.
In 2008, a Bangladesh Supreme Court decision recognized their nationality rights. A large percentage of the adults were registered to vote in the 2009 election. Despite being registered as voters and recognized as citizens, many Urdu speakers still were unable to obtain government jobs, access credit, get passports or obtain compensation for their property confiscated during the war.
Ironically neither the United Nations nor the International Red Cross and Crescent Society recognize them as refugees. They have been denied refugee status because they are not considered displaced people. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has not addressed the plight of the Biharis.
Subhuman living conditions
The camps where these stranded people are staying for almost four decades are the classic examples of subhuman living that has hardly any difference with animal life. Dingy and stinky atmosphere, merger of both water and sewerage lines, lack of latrines and clean water are constant threats to health.
Malnutrition of children in absence of proper food and medicine threatens their usual physical growth on one hand and absence of education turns them into dark generation on the other. Illiteracy rate is 94%.
Each family has been given one room -- 6 feet by 6 feet. But who wants to know that these families have grown in size over the years. Sometimes, 10 people live in one room, spanning three generations.
Wars and conflicts have displaced millions of people around the world, but those who flee such conflicts normally receive international attention and extensive media coverage. Internecine fighting among Afghan groups or conflicts in the Horn of Africa have drawn world reaction with aid agencies and UNHCR scrambling to help them. In the case of the stranded Pakistanis, if anybody knows, nobody has bothered to help alleviate their sufferings.