Bihari Refugee Camp

Posted: 12 Dec 2011 04:24 AM PST This series of images is of the Bihari refugee camp in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Having trouble getting detailed information from some of the residents, I did some research and found a fantastic article on this particular topic. Now I have never been in a refugee camp and from what I have seen from other photographers images, media, etc. this particular camp is more of a local community/town rather than a camp. Their are schools, markets, businesses, and even entertainment where daily life seems to be manageable within this community, not to mention many smiling faces and the most amazing hospitality… but that is is pretty much what to expect anywhere in Bangladesh..HA!!


The word ‘Bihari’ literally means a person who belongs to the state of Bihar of India. In Bangladeshi context any one who speaks Urdu is considered to be a Bihari whether that person comes from Bihar or not. Before the Bangladesh Liberation war in 1971, Pakistan Biharis came to East Pakistan in different phases. They were considered as citizens of Pakistan. After the independence of Bangladesh, the Pakistani army evacuated and these Biharis were left behind. Bangladesh scorned the Biharis for having supported the enemy and an anti- Bihari sentiment instigated political persecution and their homes and properties were taken over by the Bengali’s. After the creation of Bangladesh, almost all Biharis were fired from their jobs on various pretenses. Bihari children were expelled from schools. Bihari pensions, bank accounts and investments were seized. Most Bihari homes and businesses were declared abandoned/enemy properties and therefore confiscate under cover of law. Several Government promulgations facilitated the dispossession of Bihari properties. As a result, by mid 1972 nearly one million Biharis found themselves in temporary camps set up around the country.

Bangladesh Government announced the Presidential Order 149 in 1972- as a step towards offering the Bangladeshi citizenship to these Bihari people. According the Government sources nearly 600,000 Biharis accepted the offer. Later, these people assimilated with the larger population and settled down properly. But at that time, a survey was conducted by the ICRC which found that 539,669 Biharis wanted to go back to Pakistan as it was their country of nationality. ICRC started registration for the repatriation of these people without any legal sanction from both the countries.

Later, Pakistan refused to recognize all these Urdu speaking people as her bona fide citizens who already declared themselves as Stranded Pakistanis by registering with the ICRC. Islamabad showed little interest in repatriation because to them they were basically Indian refugees. During the first year of post liberation period this community was quite confident that Pakistan would welcome them as their loyal citizens. From their side, all efforts were made through ICRC and other sources to influence the concerned authorities that the only solution to this problem was repatriation to Pakistan.

In December 2008 general election in Bangladesh, a portion of these Bihari people who were born after 1971 were able to cast their vote for the first time as the citizens of Bangladesh. They are also registered for the National ID card which is associated with getting many benefits in social, economic and political life. In September 2008, Caretaker Government of Bangladesh took this laudable step to reduce their stateless situation.