Narinjara News

Burmese lingering in the prison of Bangladesh

Chittagong, 21
st June 03:  A total of forty four Burmese prisoners have already spent eight years after the expiry of their prison terms in a prison in the southeastern hilly district town of Rangamati, the daily Janakantha said today.

Though the government of Bangladesh has again and again tried to repatriate these prisoners into Burma during these years, the Burmese junta has never recognized them even as their own citizens said one of the prisoners who declined to identify.  “We only know that the prison authorities have again and again tried to attract the attention of the Burmese regime by informing the Burmese embassy in Dhaka in vain. The Burmese military regime has all along been reluctant either to recognize as their legitimate citizens or simply disregarded our appeals, on grounds only known to them,” he said.

According to the prison authorities, these Burmese citizens were arrested while illegally crossing the international border or caught fishing illegally in the Bangladesh waters.  Interestingly enough most of the Burmese prisoners were found to be fishermen.  These 44 persons were arrested in 1994  96 but all attempts to repatriate them have gone futile as because of the red tape involved.

One of the five Burmese prisoners, released last year by the intervention of the UNHCR, told us that the process of release of the Burmese prisoners who have overstayed their prison terms by as many as eight years is very bureaucratic.  While in the jail in Chittagong, the second city of Bangladesh, they tried to get in touch with the UNHCR.  Failing which all the dozens of Burmese prisoners staged hunger strike, and though they were given the promise of ‘freedom’ by the Deputy Commissioner, nothing happened for a couple of times.  Then they again and again resorted to various demonstrations, hunger strike, rally, and whatever.  Every time they had to face more and more harsh treatments.  Long after that they were lucky enough to have a meeting with the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Chittagong region.  Meanwhile representatives from the UNHCR met them for a couple of times. And at last they were released under the custody of the UNHCR, Bangladesh.

But not all of the Burmese prisoners are as lucky as them.  There are still seven to eight hundred Burmese refugees in the various jails of Bangladesh.  Till now only eleven persons have been ‘freed’ by the UNHCR and some other NGOs dealing in human rights.  

The future of the hundreds of the Burmese prisoners is still uncertain.  Though in recent times the bilateral relations of the two neighbouring countries have ‘improved substantially’, according to the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh, there has been no significant policy regarding the release or repatriation of the Burmese refugees, said a head of a local NGO dealing in human rights.   #