Indigenous Refugees

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Refugees in Tripura
The indigenous Chakma refugees fetch water in the relief camp of Tripura. These refugees fled the Bangladesh military induced terror in their homeland. An exodus to India was not a new event. But for the first time, the refugees went in very large numbers and refused to be returned. The exodus in 1986 led to the establishment of six relief camps in Tripura state of India.

The Bangladesh armed forces and the Muslim settlers had committed numerous massacres and atrocities against the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). It was done as part of the Bangladesh Government's policy to wipe out the indigenous people from their traditional homeland and populate CHT with the Bengali Muslim settlers. The state sponsored terrorism forces the indigenous people to leave their ancestral villages and farmlands and to join the tens of thousands of homeless refugees. Thousands of them fled across the border to India and Burma to escape the racial and genocidal atrocities of the fundamentally hostile Bangladeshi regime.

Since the CHT conflict started in 1975 the indigenous refugees cross the border 3 times, in 1981 to Tripura, in 1984 to Mizoram and in 1986 to Tripura. The waves of refugees are directly related to the waves of violence against the indigenous people in the CHT. However, the origins of the refugees depend on the accessibility of their villages to the borders. Most of the refugees in Tripura come from the Khagrachari and Dighinala areas. On the other hand, the majority of those fleeing from Langadu after the attacks on 4 May 1989, were not allowed into Mizoram and so remained in the forest areas and did not attempt to make the dangerous trek across the CHT to Tripura.

1. Refugees to Tripura, 1981

As a consequence of the Bangladeshi security forces genocidal campaigns at Banraibari, Belchari, Ashalong, Gurangapara, Tabalchari in Feni valley in June and September 1981 some 18,000 indigenous people took refuge in the Tripura state of India. At that time the Bangladesh Government denied that the refugees were from Bangladesh. But the world community forced the Bangladesh Government to repatriate the refugees. The indigenous refugees agreed to go back to Bangladesh on the government's promise that they would be given full protection from repression and that they would get back their villages and farmlands in addition to sufficient financial help for their rehabilitation. It is needless to say that the Bangladeshi regime did not keep its promises.

Mr. Michael Roche (the Secretary of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Berkeley, California, U.S.A) visited the CHT to investigate the genocidal crimes committed by the Bangladesh Authorities against the innocent indigenous people of the CHT. He gave a very clear picture of the plight of the refugees in his report published in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship Newsletter-

"...early this year, some 18,000 of them were repatriated to Bangladesh. These tribal people were met at the border by hostile Bangladesh officials and were given the equivalent of $8 and were left to their fates. Return to their native villages is, of course, impossible for these refugees because their homes and possessions have been appropriated by Bengali settlers, so they join the tens of thousands of homeless now in the Hill Tracts. Harassed by government authorities, unable to flee the country and without any means of support, they live in limbo in a land where the quality of tribal life approached the infernal".
 

2. Refugees to Mizoram, 1984

In May and June 1984, the Bangladesh Army (7th and 26th Bengal), the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR - 17th Battalion) and Muslim settlers launched surprise attacks on the indigenous inhabitants of Bhusan Chara, Gorostan, Bhusan Bagh, Tarengya Ghat, Het Bhoriya, Suguri Para, Choto Harina in the Barkal sub district killing at least 300 indigenous Buddhisgt people mostly women and children, burning houses, looting valuables and destroying Buddhist temples. Bangladesh army also pursued a "scorched earth" campaign for a month between 20 September and 19 October 1984 in order to evict the villagers of Bar Kalak, Othyal Chari, Harin Hat Para, Mong Chari, Shivram Para and Bamer Subalong in the Gaba Chari area of the Subalong valley.

As a result of these massacres and scorched earth campaign, about 18,000 indigenous refugees fled to Mizoram, India. But the Mizoram state government pushed most of them back to Bangladesh. However the Indian Government has kindly given shelter to over 4,000 refugees at Tibira Ghat and Tagalak Bak in the Demagiri Sub Division of the Lunglei District of Mizoram. Those refugees who were sent back to Bangladesh could not return to their homes because their villages had already been distributed to the Muslim settlers. They took refuge in the neigboring upland forests and mountains.

3. Refugees to Tripura, 1986

On 29 April 1986, the Shanti Bahini attacked several army camps and Muslim settlements. The Far Eastern Economic Review reported in June 1986:

"..a reorganized Shanti Bahini force carried out its biggest coordinated attack on 29 April as it simultaneously raided several Bangladeshi army camps and the outposts of paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles and followed it up with swoops on new settlements of immigrant Bengali Muslims. In turn, the Muslim settlers and government forces carried out reprisals on tribal villages forcing the tribes people to flee to India on 30 April".

On 30 April 1986, the Bangladesh armed forces attacked 6 villages in Matiranga Upazilla (sub District): Khetra Mohan Para, Boga Para, Bagya Para, Sarveswar Para, Assalong Para and Talukder Para.

On the following day 1 May 1986, they invaded two villages in Khagrachari Upazilla: Mahajon Para and Pankheiya Para, and 24 villages in Panchari Upazilla: Shantipur, Latiban, Kamini Member Para, Chitta Ranjan Para, Surya Sen Para, Sachindra Karbari Para, Badidhan Karbari Para, Rangapani Chara, Napida Para, Ratan Muni Para, Golak Pudima, Joutha Khamar Para, Suta Karma Para, Kanago Para, Birendra Karbari Para, Madan Karbari Para, Rabi Singha Karbari Para, Sucharu Master Para, Pujgang Mukh, Ganesh Chandra Karbari Para, Manikya Karbari Para, Mongal Dhan Karbari Para, Dhanendu Karbari Para and Jamindhan Karbari Para. Properties were robbed, houses were burnt, women were abducted and gang raped, Buddhist temples were desecrated and destroyed, and the villagers including the Buddhist monks were tortured and murdered.

As a result of the Matiranga-Panchari-Khagrachari massacres, some 500 indigenous people mostly old age, women and children were murdered, about 50 villages were destroyed, over 40,000 people were rendered homeless, about dozen Buddhist temples including those at Kalanal, Kamini Member Para, Suta Karma Para, Shantipur (north), Shantipur (south), Rangapani Chara, Panchari and Pujgang were destroyed, many Buddhist monks were wounded and Rev. Purna Nanda Bhikkhu of Kalanal Buddhist temple was hacked to death.

The villagers fled to nearby forests for their lives. They lost all their possessions and they had nothing to live on. The only way for them to evade military atrocities was to head towards the Indian border. They had to walk for weeks without food along the most difficult jungle tracks. It was extremely risky for them to enter Tripura as the border was closely guarded by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR).

For example, a group of 200 indigenous Tripura people mostly old men, women and children from Matiranga Upazilla were fleeing to the Tripura state of India. On 18 May 1986, the BDR rounded up these refugees at the border, took them to Taidong and Comillatilla, and prompted the Muslim settlers to massacre them. The BDR opened fire on even those refugees who managed to slip into Tripura, killing and wounding many of these refugees.

An exodus to India was not a new event. But for the first time, the refugees went in very large numbers and refused to be returned. The exodus in 1986 led to the establishment of the 6 relief camps in the State of Tripura. The camps had an average refugee population of 56,000 and at the height of the influx there were 80,000 refugees in Tripura.

For many years, the Indian Government wanted the refugees to repatriate. Indian authorities, both at the national and in the state of Tripura, where most of the refugees lived, kept camp conditions harsh to discourage the refugees from remaining in India. The Indian authorities did not permit UNHCR or International NGOs access to the indigenous Buddhist and Hindu refugees. They also pressured the refugees to leave.

Several repatriations occurred over the years, including groups of 1,850 and 3,500 refugees in 1994, but refugees often encountered poor conditions and the Bangladesh authorities did not delivered promised aid, including helping the returnees regain their land.The remaining indigenous refugees were repatriated after a treaty signed between the Jana Samhati Samiti and the Bangladesh Government on 2 December 1997.

While the refugees were in India for 12 years, their lands were usually taken over by the Muslim settlers who coveted it before the attack. Although the land is legally in the hands of the refugees, there are sometimes problems which exacerbate the difficulties of regaining land. The land documents are frequently destroyed when the houses are burnt, which means that the only records of the deeds lie with the authorities. In some cases the Muslim settlers obtain false documents for the same land and it becomes difficult for the indigenous people to prove ownership.


More:

  1. Refugees Pushed Back from Mizoram, India

Sources:

  1. Life is not ours: the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission
  2. Unlawful Killings in the CHT: Amnesty InternationalMaintained

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