Registration Of Refugees Will It Solve The Deadlock? [ 2006-12-3 ]
By Kazi Gautam
The much-anticipated re-registration of the Bhutanese refugees has eventually begun since mid-November, bringing in it a ray of hope among the refugees waiting to see a permanent solution to the crisis. To my mind, this can be viewed as having two objectives: to record the precise statistical data of the refugees and to find the actual data of those willing to opt for any one of the three options available for them. However, the latter motive is not stated directly. Here I feel it necessary to take a stance on the process at hand.
This is the only census and the registration conducted after 1990. So this move of the Nepal government and the UNHCR certainly wins plaudits and has been viewed with great �clat. Nevertheless, how far this would be practical is a question. Over 40,000 genuine Bhutanese are sheltering in various parts of India, and they are not registered in the refugee camps. Some of them do not have any supportive document to prove them Bhutanese.
The elderly members of some of the families have already expired. So interrogating about the house number, Thram number and the like to those who have been born and brought up in exile would not yield any fruit. What about those who possess nothing to prove their identity? Some extrinsic people have been trying to get registered in the camps off and on. One cannot refute that those non-Bhutanese might get registered as it�s easy to produce fake credentials.
The next point to be noted is the issuing of identity cards to the refugees. If only adults are provided with them, there might be a security problem to those who are below 18. I feel the aforementioned points deserve grave thought.
While the registration is going on, Bhutan is conducting a census in the country. It has also proclaimed that the refugees of category one and four would be accepted. India, which has always been indifferent towards the long protracted issue, pretending it to be a problem between Bhutan and Nepal, has shown some interest this time.
Sita Ram Yechuri, Indian CPM leader who was on an official visit to Nepal only recently, said that the refugee issue could be solved only with the active involvement of the Indian government. If India really becomes honest and pressures Bhutan to take back its citizens, there would be no need of the involvement of a third country.
Let us suppose, all the refuges are taken back. Can their rights be guaranteed? The draft constitution denies the citizenship rights of the southern Bhutanese. In August 2006, when a delegation led by Jim Kolbe from the United States met the king at Tashi Chho Dzong, the latter put forth the act of Driglam Namza and said, �One nation, one people concept is essential for the survival of Bhutan because it is very small to accommodate all.�
It is clear that he would never fulfil the demand of democracy and cultural identity. Unless a complete political change comes in Bhutan and the king becomes ready to accept the exiled people as first class citizens, and compensate the loss, repatriation becomes futile. In this scenario, the peace movement or armed struggle within the country becomes inevitable.
Besides repatriation, the US proposal of resettlement also deserves attention. If the first option fails, the US option would be better than local integration. Since some of the criteria of resettlement highlighted by Ellen Sauergrey, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration seem plausible, a haste judgement should not be made to discard it. The US package should be studied and then rejected or accepted, otherwise the refugees might be wasting some more decades in vain.
The UNHCR and Nepal should not expect to seek factual information from the refugees as regards their future plan through this registration. What plan do fate-stricken people have? Moreover, the study shows that when the movement began in the early 1990s, the people were politically unaware and they did not know what they were agitating for. Even the leaders were led astray. As a result they became refugees. Even this long stay in exile has not taught the commoners what they should look for.
Even after having lived in an internment for such a long period of time, the refugees have not been able to pluck up courage to speak any thing appropriate about their future. They are often intimidated and made to plagiarise others� views. Unless they are clearly told about the provision of the options at hand, nothing accurate will turn up.
So we hope the benefactor itself will come forward with a comprehensive way out, respecting the sentiments and the rights of the individual refugees as soon as the registration is complete without waiting for the scheduled bilateral talk, which is sure not to resume.
(Gautam is Editor in Chief, The Bhutan Reporter)