Bangladesh is an impoverished country of over 160 million people. In its short history as an independent nation, Bangladesh has faced a major civil war, massive internal displacement, famines and frequent natural disasters. In addition, Bangladesh is hosting over 200,000 Rohingya refugees from Burma in the eastern region, and in recent years recognized the nationality rights of large numbers of Urdu-speaking minority (also known as Biharis or Stranded Pakistanis).
Current Humanitarian Situation
The Rohingya ethnic minority of Burma is one of the most persecuted and at the same time one of the largest stateless groups in the world. Stripped of their citizenship by the Burmese government in 1982 and forced to flee by violent military campaigns and sustained persecution since at least the 1940s, over one million Rohingya live in exile. They are the only ethnic group in Burma restricted in marriage, traveling beyond their village or building or maintaining religious structures.
About 29,000 Rohingya live in official refugee camps in Bangladesh, where they are assisted by UNHCR and NGOs, and are not legally permitted to work or go outside the camps. Another 200,000 Rohingya refugees reside in unofficial camps or Bangladeshi villages where there is no legal protection from arrest or abuse and little to no humanitarian assistance. These unregistered refugees live a hand-to-mouth existence – only marginally worse off than the host population. Humanitarian needs continue to grow for Rohingya refugees. In one unofficial camp, malnutrition rates are twice the emergency threshold. The lack of assistance for both unregistered refugees and host communities have increased tensions over scarce resources such as water and firewood, leading to physical and sexual violence against refugees, particularly women and girls. There is little security for undocumented refugees and no access to the police or justice system.
Urdu Speaking Minority (also known as Biharis or Stranded Pakistanis)
Bangladesh is home to some 200,000 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 40 years, the camp residents were 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 Supreme Court decision recognized their nationality rights. A large percentage of the adults were registered to vote in the 2009 election. After decades of isolation and discrimination, the group’s is 94% illiterate, almost double the national rate. Despite being registered as voters and recognized as citizens, many Urdu speakers still are unable to obtain government jobs, access credit, get passports or obtain compensation for their property confiscated during the war.