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DHAKA, May 18: Bangladesh’s High Court ruled on Sunday that the children of Urdu-speaking “Bihari” Muslims awaiting repatriation to Pakistan for 37 years would be granted Bangladeshi citizenship.

“The children who were minor in 1971 or born after the independence of Bangladesh are citizens of Bangladesh,” the High Court said in a ruling over a petition by a group of Bihari Muslims pleading for Bangladeshi citizenship.

“They are also eligible to be enrolled as voters in Bangladesh,” said the ruling read out to Reuters by lawyer Hafizur Rahman Khan.

With the ruling, nearly half of about 300,000 Biharis waiting for Pakistan to accept them may become lawful citizens of Bangladesh,” Mr Khan said.

“They may also vote in the parliamentary election due in next December,” he added.

The Urdu-speaking Muslims had migrated to former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) from India following the partition in 1947.

Home ministry officials said about 140,000 Biharis who were either born in Bangladesh or have expressed loyalty to the country would be granted citizenship.

The rest would continue to languish in Bangladesh refugee camps waiting for an agreement with Islamabad to take the Biharis to Pakistan.

Pakistan has avoided the issue for decades despite repeated requests by Bangladesh, leaving the Biharis in crammed, squalid camps in Dhaka and other towns, run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Bangladeshi government.—Reuters