Excerpts from "Internment Camps of Bangladesh"
Book by Loraine Mirza
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15min 17sec The Ship Of The Damned Still Sails & The Long March
10min 29sec Geneva Camp
18min 54sec Mirpur Camps
6min 3sec The Remote Camps
5min 8sec Fire In Geneva Camp
12min 6sec Non-Bengalis in Bangladesh

Audio is presented in mp3 format

Whatever the ethnic or linguistic origin of the original wave of refugees who migrated to Pakistan, a very large segment of this population was born in East Pakistan after 1947.

Many have asked me through the years why I struggle so hard to write about a people in the world, few know or care about. The answer lies in the question it self. It is precisely because nobody knows or cares that I have stubbornly persisted. Nor will I cease that mission until the last camp in Bangladesh is closed and the last stranded Pakistani is granted the choice to either live as equal citizens in Bangladesh or the right to enter and live as full citizens of Pakistan.

Only two out of hundred kids have access to education and even that only up to middle school.

The first lesson was when we made three different stops in an attempt to get fuel for the Rickshaw. Each time he rolled the sputtering pedicab in to a gas station, he was refused service. Was there rationing? A fuel shortage? “No, happens all the time,” he said. Sometimes I have to go to many stations before I can find one who’ll sell me fuel. Then I pay double. And sometimes I am refused everywhere, and lose a day’s work”. Then with a sigh he added, and of course I have to push the rickshaw all the way back to the camp.” said Nurul Islam.

Camp schools are the only place where the Biharis can learn to read and write their own language; in the rest of the country Urdu is banned.

A man rushed out of the door way of his shelter. Suddenly his hands were reaching for my throat and as others pulled him back and held the violently struggling man, he screamed out, “Don’t bring any more Pakistani tourists here. We’re not animals in a zoo to be watched”. The man stopped fighting and sank to his knees. He broke down sobbing, “I am old and tired. I’ll die in this wretched camp”.

“I spent just a few days with husband who after marrying me was going to take me to Pakistan with him. But then he just left… abandoned me. Now I am left here with a child to raise and disgraced”.

A brother and a sister killed when their hut collapsed during the fire.

Child fire victim in traditional Muslim burial shroud.


It was the conditions of the children of the camp that hit hardest during the first full day there. Most were thin, and bare-footed, the little one naked. The survival rate of babies is about fifty percent, and the odds get worse after weaning. Many had rickets, malaria and tuberculosis.

But despite the presence of missionaries, I saw no evidence of offers of relief, food, clothing, medicine or medical care. What I did see were missionaries standing around the schools or where the children congregated, passing out bibles and offering them a way out of the camps if they would accept Christianity.

The mother of the two children overwhelmed with grief.

In that way, according Husnain, the missionaries have managed to lure eight thousand children from Mohammadpur camps to their missions over the past five years. Once at the mission the children are put to work making crafts and other things to sell to raise money. What education they do receive is Christian indoctrination.

As for World Vision, it apparently uses the camps to make films used in fundraising for the organization. None of the millions of dollars World Vision raises with those heart-wrenching documentaries ever benefits the Bihari camps.

With the Urdu language banned country wide, only in our schools can they still learn Urdu. But they come also because their children actually score higher in the examinations when they go through our school.

A rare picture of the long march when a hundred thousand stranded Pakistanis attempted to walk across India to Pakistan.

In 1978 General Ziaur Rahman ordered the army to come and evict all Biharis who were still in their homes and move us in to the camps. The army pushed a thousand families from their homes to the camps. But a few sued in the courts and were able to return to their houses.

Although they were back in their homes, the roads in front were torn out, the water, the electrical and gas lines were closed off. “And municipal tankers won’t come and drain out the cesspools, nor do we have a way to dispose of garbage, except to dump it outside the house”.

His 18 years old son had finally gotten a job as a bell boy, in the same hotel he had once managed. A 16-year old son sat quietly besides him and seemed to be ill and in pain. “I finally got a doctor to examine him, but then I couldn’t get the prescription for the medicine filled”.

A woman pleads for relief from the horror, the camps have been. “All we want is for Zia ul Haque to agree to repatriation, we will walk to Pakistan if we have to”.

He showed me the prescription, which had a notation at the left hand corner-Bihari. There was no need to elaborate any further. This was a family that never registered with the ICRC as Pakistanis. This was in fact a family with Bangladesh citizenship.

“This fire was cause by the cyclone winds”, she began, but we have had fourteen fires that were deliberately set, that have burned the entire camp to the ground, a fire for each year we have been here. Always on Ahsura. For us this place is Karbala and every day is Ashura.

If you are a child of the camps all you will ever know is hunger, persecution and deprivation. What crime has this child committed? He wasn’t even born in 1971.
Painful and prolonged death of a father of six, because no doctor or hospital would agree to treat a Bihari.

In one of the huts a man was lying on the floor with his family gathered around him. The wife of the gravely ill man made a place for me to sit. “Papa had a fever,” explained the eldest son, who appeared to be around eighteen. “Then just last week he got sicker”. The man’s bare midsection was swollen and a large patch of puffy, black flesh was visibly spread across his abdomen, an indication that he was unable to pass urine and that gangrene had set in. He was comatose, and while his midsection was bloated, his face and limbs were emaciated. “My father’s name is Khalil-uddin, please write down his name and take a picture of him. Give it to Zia-ul-Haque and tell him my father suffered and died for Pakistan.

This girl of 13 who was so weak, ill and malnourished she was unable to sit up.

He was right his father was domed. It took fifteen more days for Khaliluddin to die. And though we made concerted attempts to get medical treatment for him and others we found in dire need, we could get no doctor to come or find one hospital that would admit them. The only response was, “We don’t treat Biharis!”

As we were leaving Murapara Camps, we came across a little girl sitting outside a hut making garlands of paper flowers. This was one of the few sources for income in the smaller, remote camps. “Can you sell a garland to me?” I asked. She thought about it, then nodded.

“How much?”

A major fire in Geneva camp. Heavy smell of kerosene was reported by eye-witnesses. The police did all it could to confine the residents in the burning camp. Notice how far the fire truck is from the fire

“Five takas”, she said after a long pause.

I took out a ten taka note (worth about 15 cents U.S.) and handed it to her.

She looked the bill over carefully. “I don’t have change”.

“Its alright, keep the change”. I was told later that she probably earned no more than five takas for the entire consignment of garlands.

She gave me an indignant look. “For ten takas take two, because I’m not a begger.

“If things changed and you could receive all the full rights of citizenship in Bangladesh, would you then be willing to stay here?”

IThere have been so many fires in so many camps that international relief agencies have started considering them too frequent to be accidents

“No!”. was the resounding answer to that question, not only from them, but almost everyone in every camp.

“I spoke fluent Bangla but my height singled me out at once as a non-Bengali”. Ahmed is large framed six foot three. He described his attempts to leave his home, even six months after the war. “People would see me on the street, spit on me. Roving gangs went after me. Even my neighbors who had been friendly before, would call me Bihari rubbish”.

There was no evidence of Bangladesh offering the full rights citizenship to non-Bengalis, unless forcing them to pass themselves off as Bengalis in order to work, receive education or even move about freely in the streets is considered a legitimate form of assimilation.

Smoke rising after the fire ran out of combustibles.

“After a policeman beat my father to death in the camp, my mother told me to get to Pakistan. I was scared. No money, I did’nt even have shoes on my feet. But my mother said she would rather I get killed trying to go to Pakistan. Better to die then live with no future. So with nine other boys, we escaped on foot”.

“Are you saying you walked all eleven hundred miles from the camp to Pakistan?”

Well in India we had some help. We could find some work, and earned enough to get at least as far as Northern India by bus, or hitching rides. But we had to walk the rest of the way, and that was when things got really hard. Only four of us made it.

IThe day after: After every fire the residents are left with just the clothes on their backs and an open sky over their heads.

“What happened to the others?”
“Three died of thirst in the desert.” Pain crossed over his young face as he described the death of the other two. They were caught by Indian border patrols and shot.”

“Why were they shot?”
“Because there is no where to deport us. When we get caught, so they just shoot us.” He then told me how he forced himself to walk on feet that had become raw and bloody after the shoes he had bought for himself in India had worn out.
“How has life been for you since coming to Pakistan?”
“Hard and it is not getting any easier. Still it’s better than Bangladesh. It took four years to save enough money for a broker to bring my mother and sister here.

“The last time I saw Mustafa was on the afternoon of April 21, 1986. He waved at me as he passed carrying one pole of a large banner during a repatriation demonstration in Orangi Town.” Uniformed police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, Mustafa was one of those killed.

I was in the seventh class and living in the railway quarters in 1971, he explained. He saw his cousin lured out of their house and then killed by his close Bengali friends in early March. “Then the day after the fall of Dhaka, police came and shot my father to death through the window of our house. Soon after that the army appeared and forced them to leave their homes and go to the camp.

A copy of the notice of eviction posted on the door of a Bihari home-owner. After creation of Bangladesh all Bihari homes and businesses were confiscated by government decree.

“There were seven West Pakistanis in Bogra, working on an EPID project, taken prisoner with us,” he said “They were separated and immediately shot in front of us.

When they ran out of jewelry to sell, her husband escaped from the camp and then in 1984 brought her and the children to Pakistan through a broker. She lives in a neatly kept house near the bottom of Orangi Town. Her husband, since coming to Pakistan was never able to return to work on the railway. “And although the railway owes my husband back pay and he should get a pension, he hasn’t been able to collect what is due to him.

They are also among the tens of thousands without legal status in Pakistan. In 1988 when I returned to Pakistan and intended to revisit her, I learned that Rehana Khatoon and some members of her family had been killed on December 13, 1986 during the attack by Pathans and Afghanis just after the drug raid in Benares Chowk.

Mr. Rana allegedly a physician and a lawyer from Karachi, but most decidedly a cheat, who married a woman from the camps and then abandoned her at the end of his vacations.

Ansari then said he wanted to live in harmony with all his Muslim brothers. “And I don’t resent aiding the Mujahadeen. The Afghans in Benars Chowk are not part of the frredom fighters, and I realize that .” He also did not resent the presence of an estimated one million Bengalis in Pakistan. “All I want is the right to also live in Pakistan. Yet I have been denied the right to call myself Pakistani. I can’t get an identity card and that makes it hard to get a job that pays a living wage.”

Four men killed in Orangi Township, by the goon squad employed by the police.

“I was only fifteen when the war broke out”, Muzaffar Uddin began. “By then I’d been traveling with the Pakistan army, acting as a scout since they arrived in March.” When the unit he was attached with surrendered to the Indian forces he was with them. The Mukti Bahini placed his name on a hit list for immediate execution and were demanding that he be turned over to them.

His commanding officer in the Pakistan army unit intervened and insisted that Muzaffar be allowed to accompany them as a prisoner of war to India. “Very few Razakers were able to go with their units as POW’s. But I was fortunate to have a commanding officer who stood by his volunteers. Thousands of young men, barely in their teens like me, were either just left on their own or allowed to be turned over to the local authorities. And what it meant to be turned over to the local authorities was instant execution. Trials? No. There were no trials.”

Government hired thugs not only killed innocent men, women and children but also trashed the local masjid.

“I am here legally but I have been denied the right to even sponsor my own family to bring them here legally”. Muzaffar was thirty years old at the time of the interview, but because of the need to bring the rest his family and limited finances he has not been able to get married and start a family of his own.

“Before the Pakistan Army arrived my cousin had been tortured and brutally killed by the Mukti Bahini. He was my age, fourteen at the time. His eyes were gouged out, his throat slit. We found his body on the road.” Syed Shamim Javed.

Copies of the Quran burned by the hired hands of the Pakistani police.

“To be paid a taka a day because I was a Bihari. No Bengali would have worked for that. No Bengali would have had to work for that!”

Was Qaiser bitter?
“No, just sad.”

He does not see any difference in the attitude of the Bengalees and those in Pakistan toward refugees who came from India, and those more recently from Bangladesh. And while he may decide to settle in the United States, he said he hasn’t forgotten his stranded brethren and is active in an organization in New York that is lobbying for repatriation.

Crowd assembling for one of the many peaceful demonstrations to press for repatriation of Stranded Pakistanis.

A shipload of refugees was turned away from the American shores. With no country willing to give them sanctuary, the ship was forced to return to its home port. What awaited those passengers was death in concentration camps. The year was 1939. The country, if you have not guessed by now, was Hitler’s Germany. And the passengers were Jews.

The parallels between the Jews of World War II Europe and the Biharis of Bangladesh does not step there. Both were minority groups, labeled as traitors, accused of being previliged and used as scapegoats. Both became targets of mob mentality that was whipped up by their leaders. The very name, Bangladesh, roughly translated into English is Bengali Nation, and conjures up the same image as Hitler’s Aryan Nation, with its basis of racial purity and nationalism as a central theme. And in both cases, the world closed its eyes on the plight of the victims.

Mustafa, One of the young participants in a peaceful march to press for repatriation of Stranded Pakistanis, killed by unprovoked and deadly use of force by the local police.

Sometimes around midnight of July 12, 1977, the refugees were ordered to jump, or thrown overboard. Many were small children and women. Many could not swim. The ship then departed. The sun rose that morning and I went to the scene and saw for myself the horror of bodies floating in the harbor. For weeks afterwards, fishermen were recovering bodies washed out to sea or on the shores of the coast.In another era the world had closed its eyes and only after six million Jews perished do we now hear countless stories of the Holocaust. Much too late for the six million, but certainly it should serve as a lesson of what can happen when a people are allowed to be persecuted with immunity.

Police arriving by the truck load to deal with peaceful demonstrators.

Yet from 1971 to the present, the plight of the Biharis leaves serious doubts that we really learned the lessons of the past.

Crowd assembling for another demonstration.

The fact that a people, who because of the language they speak have been allowed to languish in camps and found no shores in the world offering sanctuary, and no protests about their plight, must mean we have not learned a thing.

Bangladesh could not isolate or deprive a minority group of basic human rights if there was a world voice out there protesting. The Biharis would not have been marooned in that hostile land if there was a world out there to put pressure on the government of Pakistan to fulfill their moral obligation.

Allowing this to go on, is not only condemning 300,000 men, women and children, but other potential victims in some other part of the world, when some government decides they speak the wrong language, are the wrong color or practice the wrong religion, and decides it can get away with oppressing another minority population without interference.

Another scene of police action against residents of Orangi Township.

Are we doomed to repeat the same journey on ships that land only on death’s shores? There might even be a ship, bound for nowhere, with a berth waiting in it for you and me.

The Biharis were depicted as privileged and collaborators, thus deserving lifelong sentences, not only for the adults but for every generation that followed.

Ahsan himself had lost his sister, brother in law and four of their children. When he reached Rajshahi with his unit and gone to their house to find them, they had disappeared. After a search they found their bodies buried in the courtyard. All had been hacked to pieces except for his sister, who was six months pregnant at the time. She was found buried alive.

Commerating the death of innocents at the hands of police and their accomplices.

Still missing were their two youngest daughters who were two and four years old. A few days later, after giving up hope that he would find his nieces alive, a Bengali servant who had worked in their house turned up at the Cantonment in Rajshahi. With him were the two little girls. Ahsan (now retired) and his wife were raising the orphaned girls in Karachi.

Only 275 of the 19000 children in camps go to school. Only six of the 66 camps have a school.

“All we want is for Zia ul Haque to agree to repatriation. We will walk to Pakistan if we have to”.

Major Mirza Murtaza Ali (Retd.): But there was massive slaughter and rapes of the Biharis by the Bengalis and we came upon the bodies in mass graves, clogging every river and pond in every village, town and city we went through.

The consequence of asking for your rights in Pakistan.

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