The ‘refugees’ within | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 24, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 24, 2020

The ‘refugees’ within

Driven out of their ancestral land about three years ago, 15 Chak families struggle for survival

Around three years ago, 15 families of Chak, a small ethnic community, were driven out of their ancestral dwellings and agricultural land in Shui Jaing Chak Para of Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari upazila.

As many as 81 members of these families are now living the life of refugees, in inhumane conditions, after they took shelter in Madhyam Chak Para, another village in the same upazila, where 56 other Chak families already live.

Crammed in a small area where arable land, known as Jhum land, is already allotted to original residents of the village, the new residents now do not have any means to earn a living.     

Their hopes of returning to their ancestral land is diminishing as no action was taken all these years against the perpetrators who attacked, looted their belongings and forced them out of their houses and land where they lived for generations, said several of them.

For survival, they are willing to return to their home village and reclaim their land, but the authorities concerned did not assure them of any security either, they also said.

“In February of 2017, a group of eight to ten criminals, with firearms and sharp weapons, came to our para. They beat us up, issued threats and made us leave the Para immediately,” said 70-year-old Thui Hla Aung Chak.

U Mai Ya Chak, another victim and mother of three young children, said, “We left our village following the threats and are now living in Madhyam Chak Para in an inhumane condition.”

A number of victims alleged that the attack was carried out to illegally possess their land and the masterminds behind the attacks were two leaders of the Awami League -- Mohammad Shafiullah, president of Naikhongchhari upazila unit of AL and the chairman of Naikhongchhari Upazila Parishad; and Kwe Shwe Hla, president of Bandarban district unit of AL and the chairman of Bandarban Hill District Council (BHDC). 

“Shafiullah and Kwe Shwe Hla illegally occupied around one thousand acres of Jhum land in Naikhongchhari mouza, Jaruliachhari mouza and Sonaichhari mouza in Naikhongchhari upazila,” alleged Mong Yai Marma, headman of Jaruliachhari mouza.

“They grabbed our ancestral land in the name of tourism business,” he also said.

Bashing Chak, headman of Naikhongchhari mouza, said, “Persistent intimidation from the land grabbers forced the hapless villagers flee their homes... With threats on their lives, they [Chaks] didn’t dare to file any formal complaint with the local police station.” 

When asked, Shafiullah denied any involvement in the eviction of the 15 Chak families. “We are working to flourish tourism in government khas land only,” he claimed.

Kwe Shwe Hla refused to make any comment over the allegation.

Last year, on October 20, a team from the civil aviation and tourism ministry, led by State Minister Mahbub Ali, visited the Shui Jaing Chak Para.

The state minister was accompanied by Secretary Mohibul Haque and Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation Chairman Ram Chandra Das. 

When this correspondent reached State Minister Mahbub for his comment on the situation in Shui Jaing Chak Para, he said “We visited the area and recently we appointed a consultant for a feasibility study.”

Regarding the eviction of the 15 Chak families from the village, he said, “If Shafiullah and Kwe Shwe Hla grabbed hundreds of acres of Jhum land using our name, we will direct the local administration to take action against them.”

“No member of any small ethnic community will be evicted from their land if tourism flourishes there,” the minister also said.

Contacted, Shafiul Alam, additional deputy commissioner in Bandarban, said they did not get any letter from any ministry or from any other authorities regarding acquisition of land in Naikhongchhari for tourism purposes.

“This is absolutely unacceptable that police did not take any action just because no complaint was filed with them,” he added.

On December 5, 2019, locals handed over a memorandum to the Bandarban deputy commissioner, containing complaints to the prime minister against Shafiullah and Kwe Shwe Hla.

A Chak community leader, Thawi Koyjai Chak, said since the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord was signed, at least 50 Chak families were evicted from Naikhongchhari’s Badurjhiri Chak Para, Longadu Chak Para and Shui Jaing Chak Para. 

“We are always living in a state of anxiety as the local administration is helping ruling party leaders forcibly occupy our ancestral land,” he said, adding that most members of the Chak community in the upazila have been living in fear of eviction.

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