HC Deb 11 April 1973 vol 854 cc1300-1
3. Mr. Fowler

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further information he has received from the British High Commission in Dacca about the condition of the Biharis in Bangladesh.

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Balniel)

Reports this month from the British High Commission at Dacca indicate that the present position of the Biharis is generally better than it was 12 months ago. All Biharis now have shelter and daily food. Although most of them are still without work, materially their position is no worse than that of most Bangalees.

Mr. Fowler

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he recognise that in the last month both The Times and The Guardian have carried reports of the plight of the Biharis which do not altogether confirm the tone of that reply and, in particular, point to the present hopelessness of the Biharis' position? Is there not a serious danger that the Biharis will become permanent refugees unless urgent action is taken not only by Bangladesh but by Pakistan?

Lord Balniel

Yes, indeed. We are most anxious that there should be a quick solution to this terrible human problem. My hon. Friend will know that arrangements are being made through the Red Cross for India and Bangladesh to release certain categories of civilians and for Pakistan to permit certain Bangalees in Pakistan to return to Bangladesh. These arrangements are welcome. It is regrettable that they are not proceeding more quickly. We understand that the Red Cross is continuing its discussions with the countries concerned.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the condition of the Biharis in Bangladesh may be better than it was a year ago, it could hardly then have been worse, and that many of these people had positions of responsibility and influence within Bengali society? Will he consult the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on what should be done to concert action to ameliorate their conditions, particularly as some Biharis have escaped to Thailand, Nepal and Burma?

Lord Balniel

I take note of my hon. Friend's comments. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has recently visited Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and is considering whether he can constructively help in this problem.

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