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The birth of Bangladesh


It is 30 years since war broke out in Bangladesh, at the time the province of East Pakistan. At the instigation of Awami League Nationalists, the separatist movement declared independence on 26 March 1971. The conflict that ensued was particularly bloodthirsty and degenerated in December 1971 into an 11-day war between Pakistan and India. The fighting triggered a mass exodus of some 10 million people, mainly to India and then to Pakistan.
   The humanitarian response matched the enormous needs and gave rise to a joint emergency operation combining the ICRC, the then League of Red Cross Societies and numerous National Society medical teams. The staff focused mainly on the protection of prisoners of war, tracing missing people, food relief and medical assistance for displaced people and refugees.
   Jean-Jacques Kurz was in Bangladesh on his first mission for the ICRC. He captured these images at the time and now shares his recollections with Red Cross, Red Crescent.

Jean-François Berger

Bihari camp, Chittagong, 1972.
"Accused of collaborating with the Pakistanis, the Biharis were in great need of protection, especially at night."

Mirpur camp, Dacca, 1972.
"In the camps, we supplied bulk food to the refugees, who cooked it themselves. Most of the time, it was a combination of corn, soya and powdered milk."

Mirpur camp, Dacca (modern-day Dhaka), 1972.
"In the initial emergency phase, saris served as tents for the Biharis."

ICRC delegation, Purbani Hotel, Dacca, 1972.
"Bangladesh was one of the first big joint operations, so that briefings of medical teams seconded by National Societies - here the German and the British - took place on an almost daily basis."

"Arrested": A message from the Biharis to the delegates, Dacca.
"The Biharis were afraid to talk openly of arrests. Often, unbeknownst to us, they would slip us warning messages. I found this piece of paper in the fold of my turned-up sleeve on returning from the camp. I photographed it with a Nikormat belonging to the ICRC on the carpet of my hotel room. It was the beginning of a case for the tracing agency."

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