The murmur of children reading the holy Quran filters through the hutments into the alleys of the small shantytown in the heart of Dhaka. Surrounded by open drains, the ghetto—somewhat incongruously called the Geneva camp—has been home to about 20,000 stranded Pakistanis, locally called Biharis. They are part of the 2.4 lakh-strong community living in 66 refugee camps all over Bangladesh, awaiting repatriation to their promised land—Pakistan.
The Geneva-based Red Cross had constructed the temporary camps immediately after the War of Liberation in 1971 to accommodate those who had opted to move to Pakistan but had been left behind.
The Biharis—a collective name for all non-Bengali Muslims of Indian origin—had crossed over to the former East Pakistan during the post-Partition riots. Numbering just about 1 million in a population of 75 million, they kept largely to themselves during the 24 years of undivided Pakistan, retaining their distinct ethnicity.
The Biharis were relatively better off than their Bengali counterparts, who they...