"We are now Bangladeshis. We are no longer stranded-Pakistanis."
This was the predominant theme at a roundtable discussion on the rehabilitation and integration of Urdu-speaking Bangladeshis, often wrongly identified as Biharis, held at the capital's Lalmatia today.
The roundtable on Wednesday, organised by the Council of Minorities, was moderated by Khalid Hussain, chief executive of the minorities, where community members highlighted the many problems they continued to face.
Apart from noted civil society figures, the roundtable was also joined by representatives of the minority community from camps in Saidpur, Khulna, Chattogram and Dhaka's Mohammadpur and Mirpur.
Khalid Hussain, the keynote speaker, began the proceedings by giving a presentation on the legal issue and legal identity of the camp dwellers. His main focus was on their rehabilitation and integration into the mainstream community.
Humayoun Kabir, a representative from Khulna, urged the authorities concerned to ensure proper recognition of the disadvantaged community. "We all are Bangladeshis, not stranded Pakistanis," he said.
Meanwhile, a representative from Saidpur demanded the Rabita Trust Fund -- which received funding for the welfare of the community, but was blacklisted years later – be taken from the Pakistan government for the rehabilitation of the so-called Biharis in Bangladesh.
Mofidul Hoque, a trustee of the liberation war museum, said the young generation of the community had ownership of the country. "You have the same rights in Bangladesh [as other citizens] and you should also raise the issue of war criminals. We are determined that all war criminals be punished in this land. I support your cause and believe you all are Bangladeshi citizens."
Wasi Alam Bashir, who leads the Mohajir Rehabilitation and Development Movement, demanded that the "Stranded-Pakistani Camp" sign boards be removed from all camps across the country. "It is a sin to have such signs for our generation. We are not Pakistani. Why is the SPGRC [Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee] still keeping these signs?"
Speaking as the chief guest of the event, Sultana Kamal, a lawyer and human rights activist, said, "I'm happy to be here and I believe you are a part of this country. But if someone claims to be a stranded Pakistani, they too have their rights and as a human rights activist, I will support them to go back to their country," she said.
"If you, however, believe this is your country, then your rights cannot be taken by anyone," she said.
Sultana Kamal said, "You do not belong to Pakistan and my support will be with your cause. This is your country and together we will raise the voice for permanent rehabilitation of Biharis in Bangladesh and I am ready to support your cause."
Zakir Hossain, chief executive of Nagorik Uddyog, also spoke on the occasion.