Unfounded lists spark concern, confusion
Two unsubstantiated lists of tribal refugees and internally-displaced persons have not only caused public outrage in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), but also an apprehension about security threat among the security forces.
One of the lists contains 21,900 tribal families of returnee refugees from India and the other around 82,000 internally-displaced tribal families.
The Task Force on Rehabilitation of the Returnee Refugees and Internally-Displaced Persons in its late September meeting decided to forward the lists to the CHT ministry for a decision on rehabilitation of the listed families at public expense.
“The lists came out of the blue while repatriation of returnee tribal refugees came to an end 12 years back,” said Abdul Aziz Akand, former chairman of Kamalchhari Union Parishad in Khagrachhari.
Under the purview of 1997 CHT peace accord, tribal returnee families were rehabilitated over a period of twelve years until late 2009.
The taskforce at its late 2009 meeting mentioned that the number of returnee tribal families from India was 12,223 with 64,612 members most of who had been rehabilitated, with the last 21 families being rehabilitated in Jamtola of Dighinala upazila.
During the same time, 89,280 internally displaced tribal families and 57,692 non-tribal families were also rehabilitated, according to taskforce minutes.
Curiously, the taskforce at its late December 2016 meeting mentioned the additional 21,900 tribal returnee families.
However, it has been silent about a list of 38,000 internally-displaced non-tribal families, identified by it, who have been stranded in an inhuman condition at 72 makeshift cluster housings for three decades, said Md Main Uddin, president of Parbatya Odhikar Forum.
“We demand scrutiny of the freshly floated lists with judicial and security officials,” he said.
Requesting anonymity, a top official of the security force deployed in CHT, said, “The unfounded lists are aimed at helping infiltration of Indian and Myanmar citizens and destabilising security in the hill tracts, and it got a kind of endorsement of the taskforce.”
Kujendralal Tripura, chairman of the taskforce, said, “Neither of the two lists is correct. The list of 12,223 returnee refugees is the authentic one. I'm pretty sure that the ministry will not accept these lists.”
The families on the said list returned from India during a decade since 1987 until signing of the CHT peace accord, and are unrecorded, he said.
Asked whether it was business of the taskforce to deal with refugees out of purview of the peace accord, Kujendralal said, “We could not turn down the issue because it was being discussed at the taskforce for past three years.”
As to whether the taskforce scrutinised where the families lived in Bangladesh and when they left, where they took shelter and when they came back, Kujendralal said the ministry would send the list back for scrutiny.
“I don't know much about it,” he said, adding “Probably, the people on the list are trying to avail benefits of government repatriation.”
Repatriation and rehabilitation of tribal refugees began in March 1997, following an agreement reached in Agartala between tribal refugee leaders and Bangladesh authorities.
The peace accord provides that repatriation of returnee tribal refugees would be in light of Agartala agreement; therefore the issue of unrecorded refugees, who returned before the peace accord was signed, is not a business of the taskforce, said official sources.
Krishna Chandra Chakma, chief executive officer of the taskforce, said the returnee list was prepared by their association and the other one by local administration. Both were flawed with duplication and had lack of documentation, he added.
As to why they took those into consideration, he said the government would decide on it.
According to available records, in 1993, the Indian government handed over a list of 11,806 registered Bangladeshi refugee families (56,496 people) living then in Tripura and another of 430 unregistered families (1,457 people) to the Bangladesh government.
In March 1997, Indian authorities provided a list on Bangladeshi refugees living till then in various camps in Tripura State with a total of 9,267 families (49,892 refugees).