Refugees: Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord (CHT)
D) REHABILITATION, GENERAL AMNESTY AND OTHER MATTERS
1. An agreement has been signed between the govt and the refugee leaders on March 9, 1997 with an aim to take back the tribal refugees from India's Tripura State based on the 20-Point Facilities Package. In accordance with the said agreement repatriation of the refugees started since March 28, 1997. This process shall continue and with this in view, the JSS shall provide all kinds of possible co-operation. The internal tribal evacuees of 3 districts shall, after determination, be rehabilitated by the Task Force.
Approximately 70,000 indigenous people fled to the Indian state of Tripura during the insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, with another 100,000 internally displaced persons within Bangladesh. Although the repatriation efforts had already been ongoing for years, the CHT Accord established a Task Force on Rehabilitation of Returnee Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons to expedite the repatriation process. The Government of Bangladesh signed a 20-point aid package agreement in 1997 in which it committed itself to providing food assistance, house-building money, and livestock to returning refugees. Most of the refugees did return to Bangladesh; however, a majority became IDPs because their land or houses were occupied and the land restitution program was not implemented.1
The repatriation of the Jumma or Chakma refugees was an antecedent to the signing of the Accord, which took place on 02 December 1997. Starting in April, nearly 11,000 refugees had returned home at the signing of the agreement.2 In a period of 15 days, starting on November 21 and ending December 6, a total of 13,024 tribal refugees making up 2,547 families returned to the CHT from different refugee camps in the Indian state of Tripura. As of December 6, the number of remaining refugees was estimated to be around 44,359 in six refugee camps in Tripura.3 According to reports from a December 1997 meeting of the Awami League and the tribal refugee welfare association, around 31,000 refugees remained in the refugee camps in Tripura at the time of the meeting. The sixth and final phase of the repatriation process from the Tripura camps began in January 1998.4
From January 1 to January 9, 1998, a total of 7,916 Chakma refugees returned to the CHT.5 In the first few days of February, some 1,025 tribal refugees returned from refugee camps.6 In February and March, an estimated 10,000 tribal people from the Indian state of Mizoram crossed into southeastern Bangladesh. Many of these refugees “had found their abandoned homes taken over.”7
- 1. See provision for Economic and Social Development.
- 2. “Government and rebels sign accord to end insurgency,” Associated Press Worldstream, December 2, 1997.
- 3. “Bangladeshi refugees eager to return home from India,” Xinhua News Agency, December 6, 1997.
- 4. “Last phase of repatriation of Chakma tribals begins 1st January,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, December 31, 1997.
- 5. “Nearly 8,000 refugees repatriated to Bangladesh.” Xinhua News Agency, 10 January 1998.
- 6. “1,000 Bangladeshi refugees return home from India,” Xinhua News Agency, February 2, 1998.
- 7. “10,000 Mizoram refugees cross into Bangladesh,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 26, 1998.
According to the chairman of the Task Force in August of 1999, 80 percent of the repatriated tribals received their aid package.8
- 8. “80 pct of repatriated tribals rehabilitated in Bangladesh,” Xinhua News Agency, August 4, 1999.
In 2000, the Task Force on Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons submitted a list of indigenous families and Bengali families to be rehabilitated. The PCJSS and Jumma Refugee Welfare Association rejected the list because it contained thousands of Bengali settlers who came to the CHT during the transmigration programs of 1979 to 1984. When the government members would not agree to exclude Bengalis from the refugee list, the PCJSS and the Jumma Refugee Welfare Association boycotted the Task Force, thereby effectively shutting it down.9
Tribal groups in India’s north eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh threatened to use any measures necessary to force the remaining 50,000 Buddhist Chakma refugees back to Bangladesh if New Delhi failed to act.10
- 10. “Indian tribal group vows to force 50,000 refugees back to Bangladesh,” Agence France Presse, January 13, 2001.
No developments on Jumma refugees in 2002. Bangladesh experienced terrible floods in the year which trumped all media coverage of the repatriation program and produced thousands of additional displaced persons.
Although the repatriation from Tripura was complete, several sources indicated that most of those that returned were now internally displaced. The Dhaka Daily Star reported that the government had decided to stop giving food rations to “65, 000 indigenous people who became refugees in CHT after returning from the Indian state Tripura following the 1997 peace accord.” The tribal refugees were still awaiting the return of their lands being occupied by Bengali settlers and demanded the government to relocate the settlers elsewhere. The government’s sympathies appeared to have been with the Bengali settlers. The Daily Star reported that the prime minister was finalizing a plan to “give permanent resident status to over 26,000 families of Bengali settlers living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).”11
On 2 December 2003, the Chairman of CHT Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, gave a press conference calling on the government to fully implement the 1997 agreement. Larma called on the government to rehabilitate the 3,055 tribal families who had returned to the CHT to find their lands occupied. Around 40 Jumma villages remained occupied according to Larma’s report.12
India’s Arunachal Pradesh's ruling Congress party pledged to deport/evict all of the 60,000 Bangladeshi tribal refugees remaining in India if voted to power in assembly elections.13
- 13. “Chakma refugees in a fix over whom to vote,” Indo-Asian News Service, September 28, 2004.
New refugee camps were established in 2005 in the CHT tracts for thousands of returning tribal residents who are landless. The BBC reported that a six-member team from the European Union (EU) had visited several refugee camps in the CHT region. The team went to the Rohingya refugee camp, the Kutupalong of camp, the Nayapara camp in Teknaf, and a newly-set up camp at Korontali.14
- 14. “EU team visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh,” BBC Monitoring South Asia, November 9, 2005.
Speaking at a national press club meeting on the 9th anniversary of the 1997 Peace Accord, Chittagong Hill Tracts leader Shantu Larma warned that another guerrilla war in the CHT was inevitable due to lack of implementation of the treaty and army oppression in the CHT. In his speech titled "Land dispute in the hills, IDPs and implanting the peace treaty" he deplored the lack of land resolution for tribal IDPs and the legal re-settlement of Bengali settlers in the CHT by the government in violation of the treaty.15
- 15. “Bangladesh indigenous leader warns of guerrilla war in hills,” BBC Monitoring South Asia, December 2, 2006.
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues reported that 9,700 families were not able to reclaim their land or houses because the property was occupied by Bengali settlers or military personnel. We do not know exactly how many individuals this translates into. According to Begum (2004), the average family size in rural Bangladesh was 4.59 persons, which yields a rough estimate of 44,500 persons (9,700*4.59) falling in the semi-rehabilitated status.16 According to the CHT Returnee Jumma Refugees' Welfare Association (CHTRJRWA) and a PCJSS report, 12,222 families returned to the CHT and 9,780 families were not able to recover their lands and were living in camps on government food rations.17