`Bangladesh ready to offer nationality to stranded Pakistanis`

Thousands of Urdu-speaking people are mostly languishing in refugee camps.

Last Updated: Aug 28, 2010, 10:46 AM IST

Dhaka: Bangladesh is ready to offer nationality status to thousands of Urdu-speaking people mostly languishing in refugee camps, since its emergence as an independent nation in 1971.

"Many of the post 1971 generation `stranded Pakistanis` took Bangladeshi nationality and the Bangladesh`s door is open in offering them the nationality," state-run BSS news agency quoted Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni as saying in London.

Only those, Moni said, who did not want Bangladesh`s citizenship, were staying in the country with their `stranded Pakistani or Bihari identities` for the past four decades since the country attained independence after nine months of Liberation War against Pakistan.

The foreign minister made the comments after addressing a seminar on `Bangladesh Foreign Policy` at UK’s research institute Policy Exchange.

Nearly one million people who had migrated from India`s Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to the then East Pakistan after the sub-continent`s partition in 1947, were left stranded in an hostile terrain since the Bangladesh`s Liberation War when they largely sided with Pakistani troops.

After years of negotiations, several thousand were repatriated, but the rest multiplied, living mostly in shanties called Geneva camps at different parts of the country as they waged campaigns for repatriation claiming to be "stranded Pakistanis" while Dhaka constantly asked Islamabad to take them back over the past several decades.

A large number of the young generation of the stranded Pakistanis, generally called Biharis, in recent years decided to stay back as Bangladeshis while the High Court ordered their citizenship several years ago.

Bangladesh in March this year took a massive project to construct 45 high-rise buildings to rehabilitate the stranded Pakistanis who are now living in the squalid refugee camps.

Officials said 38,667 stranded Pakistani families residing at the capital`s Mohammadpur area would get permanent housing under the Taka 350 crore project as decades of negotiations yielded little results for their repatriation.

Pakistan`s envoy to Dhaka last year said his country had already made "substantial efforts" to repatriate the Urdu-speaking people who opted for Pakistan in 1971 as the issue remained shelved for decades since Bangladesh`s independence after a nine month long Liberation War against his country.

"Substantial efforts were made to de-relocate them under the 1974 treaty, under which many of them went to Pakistan. I am not sure how many of them still want to go to Pakistan," former Pakistani high commissioner Alamgir Babar said.

The envoy, however, called it a "humanitarian issue" saying "we will think what more could be done" beyond a 1974 tripartite pact, signed also by India which had extended a crucial support for Bangladesh`s independence.