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Refugees' houses set on fire

Sectarian clash 'began with row over US$1.23'; leaves 1,000 homeless

Refugees' houses set on fire
Stranded Pakistani refugees break down in tears over burning of their camp in northwestern Rangpur city (photo by Iqbal Hossain) reporters, Rangpur and Dhaka

December 7, 2012

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About 300 houses were burned and 1,000 refugees made homeless Wednesday after a clash between local Bengali people and Pakistani refugees in Rangpur in the country's northwest.

The conflict ballooned from a minor argument over money between Bengali restaurant owner Muhammad Harin and refugee employee Raju Mian, said police officer Altaf Hossain.

“Harin and Raju quarreled over 100 taka (US$ 1.23), but Harin claimed he had already paid him and then slapped him,” Hossain said. “Later, Raju and his associates tried to attack Harin.”

No one has been arrested and no case has yet been filed, the officer said. No casualties were reported.

Refugee Arif Hossain, 40, said a group of unidentified people set homes on fire around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday and he believes that it was a retaliatory attack by Harin and his men.

“We have lost everything including food and clothes in the fire,” he said. “We demand compensation.”

Rangpur deputy commissioner Farid Ahmed said some relief materials were distributed to the victims and the situation was now normal.

“We have distributed 10,000 taka (US$ 123), food, clothes, utensils, housing and bedding material to the victims,” said Ahmed.

He added that a probe committee has been formed and told to submit a report by tomorrow. “According to the report we will arrest and hand down exemplary punishment to the culprits.”

The Pakistani refugee camps stem from the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 when about 300,000 Muslims fled from the Indian state of Bihar to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

They were left stranded after 1971 when Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan. Thousands have been repatriated since 1973, but about 160,000 refugees remain in 13 ill-equipped camps across the country.

Harun-ur-Rashid, secretary of the Stranded Pakistanis’ General Repatriation Committee (SPGRC) in Dhaka says Wednesday’s incident shows the ‘hatred’ of Bengali people towards the Pakistani refugees.

“We are the minority of the minorities and among the most neglected people in the country. The government should either help us repatriate to Pakistan or offer opportunities to live in co-existence with Bangladeshi people,” he said. “We want to live in peace.”

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