Vol. 5 Num 418 Sat. July 30, 2005  

Fate of stranded Pakistanis still hangs in the balance
Repatriation process remains stalled since 1982

The issue of repatriation of some 2,50,000 stranded Pakistanis gets complicated with the passage of time as Pakistan and relevant organisations simply ignore it and make other issues as their priority agenda, according to a study.

Who will take the responsibility of these stranded Pakistanis? Is it Pakistan, Bangladesh, UN or international humanitarian organisations? Or will the world humanity keep sitting on the sidelines and see them perishing in an inhuman condition in dark camps? the study questions.

Unofficial statistics put the number of the stranded Pakistanis at between 2,37,000 to 3,00,000 sheltered in as many as 70 refugee camps, now reduced to 66, across Bangladesh.

For their early repatriation, the International Red Cross had prepared a list of about 5,00,000 stranded Pakistanis who opted for Pakistan. By 1974, the Pakistan government had transferred 1,08,000 stranded people to Pakistan. The number rose to 1,63,000 by 1981.

In 1982, some 4,600 stranded Pakistanis were repatriated to Pakistan after a year of no publicised plans for official repatriation by the Pakistan government. The US $1.5 million airlift was financed by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.

The operation was done in cooperation with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Since 1982, the repatriation process has remained stalled. As per a tripartite agreement signed by India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in 1974, all the remaining Pakistanis staying in camps were to be taken back by Pakistan.

Since then, late Pakistan President Ziaul Huq, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and incumbent President Pervez Musharraf never declined to accept these Pakistanis. Nawaz and Musharraf even gave categorical assurances to the Bangladesh governments for initiating the repatriation process.

During his official visit to Bangladesh, President Pervez Musharraf gave categorical assurance to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's government to take up this humanitarian issue on priority basis, but no initiative is seen till today, says the study, conducted by NewsNetwork.

About the repatriation of the remaining stranded Pakistanis, former foreign minister Dr Kamal Hossain, who is also a signatory to the tripartite agreement among India, Bangladesh and Pakistan of 1974, said the agreement envisages the provision to take back the remaining Pakistanis in Bangladesh.

"We have created the framework" to send back these people, he said, adding that it needs "political will" of the governments in both Pakistan and Bangladesh to resolve this humanitarian problem.

He feels that the two governments should make it a priority issue and sit across the table with the problem solving approach and settle it through a meaningful discussion.

Analysts and researchers said there has not been any sustained move by Islamabad and Dhaka to take it up as a humanitarian crisis. Both the governments should immediately sit and settle the matter given the existing good relation between Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Some also think that since most of these stranded Pakistanis have technical skills and since oil-rich Middle Eastern countries need skilled and semi-skilled workers, a move could be undertaken by the governments concerned to send them to those countries on jobs. If they become well-off financially, their problem would be solved.

Many of these stranded people who became financially sound have already gone to Pakistan and have been living over there without causing any burden to the Pakistan economy.

International organisations such as UNHCR, ICRC and UNDP, which have been providing billions of dollars for the distressed people from Afghanistan to Sudan, could also take a new initiative to help this crying humanity whose weal and woes have so far been ignored.