The Community-led Development of Bihari Camps was developed to support a minority group of displaced people in Bangladesh. The Bihari population – non-Bengali Muslims who originate from India’s eastern state of Bihar – have long faced discrimination and statelessness. When India was divided and Pakistan was created in 1947, violent clashes led to many Biharis leaving for East Pakistan.
When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971 – after an independence war – many Urdu-speaking Biharis were perceived to be in alliance with Pakistan. With repatriation halted in 1974, neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh granted citizenship to the Biharis and as a result, thousands have lived in camps for decades. In 2008, a Supreme Court ruling finally recognised their right to Bangladeshi nationality and they are, formally, no longer refugees. However, their living conditions have remained the same.
With ownership of the camps uncertain and land prices rising, this project aims to secure the future of the Bihari community through mobilising residents to develop a community-led organisation. One proposal that will be explored is the creation of a Community Land Trust, which would hold land titles in perpetuity and allow for the development of infrastructure and housing.
With the support of World Habitat, the Council of Minorities – a human rights NGO in Bangladesh – kicked off the project in late 2019. Activities so far included:
- Focus groups with young people, elderly people and members of the current leadership in the pilot communities of Geneva Camp and Adamjee to understand resident priorities, ambitions, fears and concerns
- Research into the history and legal status of the land
- Involvement of young people in physical and social mapping exercises to gather knowledge of the camps’ infrastructure, land use, and livelihood options, along with household surveys and geo-referencing in collaboration with Cadasta
- Presentation of data gathered and analysis to camp residents to support the collaborative elaboration of strategies and design proposals
- Networking with legal, international development, urban planning and community-led upgrading experts – including two exChanges with the Philippine Alliance (Technical Assistance Movement for People and the Environment and the Homeless People’s Federation Philippines) and with the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India.