BHUTANESE REFUGEES SERIES IV: Refugees are boon for some Nepalis
BY TILAK P. POKHAREL
BHUTANESE REFUGEE CAMPS, Nov 13 - "Burden-sharing" is a term widely used while referring to resettlement of Bhutanese refugees in third countries. But, are they really a burden for Nepalis? The answer in "no" for many Nepali communities hosting the refugees for 16 years.
Rather, the refugees' presence has helped them improve their otherwise difficult life, thanks to efforts of aid agencies. For instance, let's glance at the following facts:
1. Twelve local women in Jiri Khimti village, about a kilometer from Pathari refugee camp (Morang), are receiving shoe-making training.
2. Chandra Kiranteshwor Lower Secondary School (Jhapa) has got two school blocks constructed, besides getting furniture.
3. Nine poor students from Jhapa and Morang districts are receiving vocational training at Madan Bhandari Memorial Academy (Jhapa). Four such students had received similar scholarship last year.
4. About 100 households from the marginalized Santhal community (Jhapa), who otherwise are landless and earn their living as bonded laborers, are doing well farming land plots given to them for five years.
5. Otherwise affected by floods every year, hundreds of locals in Arjundhara village are heaving a sigh of relief as the otherwise aggressive Biring river until six years ago has been tamed, and about 50 bighas of land is being cultivated.
"Now we have greatly benefited. We have cultivated cauliflower, radish, tomato and chilies," says Hadam Murmu, 38, a member of the Santhal (Satar) community from Garamadi VDC. Santhal community is considered one of the poorest. "Before this, I used to work in somebody else's farm, and used to brew alcohol."
Besides the land and seeds, among others, made available to them by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF)-Nepal through a local NGO, they are also benefiting directly from the refugees.
"They (refugees) sell us rice grains (received from UNHCR) at the rate of Rs 15 per kilogram, while the same costs Rs 20 in Garamadi Market. They also work in our farms for lesser wage," says the smiling Murmu. "If they go somewhere else, it will be a disaster for us."
Like Murmu, all his peers who never went to any school say they have sent all their kids to schools now.
Locals in Arjundhara village are no less happy. They received training and technical assistance in disaster reduction from LWF and have started cultivating about 50 bighas of land, according to Krishna Prasad Dhungana, secretary of Arjundhara Natural Disaster Management Group. "We are taming the (Biring) river to flow along a single track by planting trees on both sides," says Dhungana. There is no trace of water around a tower set up years ago to inspect the level of water during monsoon. According to Ramesh Jung Rayamajhi, a senior official with LWF-Nepal, programs for the host community were first initiated in 1994 by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) as locals started clashing with refugees.
"The annual spending for such activities [in host communities] is around US $ 400,000 [Rs 28.4 million] now," says Rayamajhi. "The annual spending in 1996 was US $ 200,000 [Rs 14.2 million]." The UNHCR had handed over the job to carry out such activities to LWF in 1996. (Concluded)