The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, May 31, 2007

RITU RAJ CHHETRI TO CONTEST FROM SIBSOO

A lawyer for Sibsoo
By Sonam Pelvar May 27, 2007

Thimphu: Democracy might have failed in some countries for reasons like illiteracy, ignorance, vote bank politics, misuse of freedom and because people think they can do anything with a democratic government. But this will not be the case with Bhutan.




>>Ritu Raj Chhetri

Expressive with his communication abilities, Ritu Raj Chhetri, a senior legal officer with the National Environment Commission, gives an air of someone prone to deep thinking when it comes to issues that affect the mass.

Having already submitted his resignation from the civil service, he is ready to run for the People’s Democratic Party from Sibsoo constituency in Samtse.

“I’m responding to the need of the hour when yet another milestone in our history is about to be unfurled,” he said. “I chose to run from PDP because the party is led by a person known for his service to the people.”

With his law background, Ritu Raj, who has a bachelor’s degree from the Government Law College in Mumbai, adds another color to the political fray brewing by the day. He also comes from a family whose members have always held the post of local leaders.

His father, Dasho Janga Bahadur Chhetri, was a popular figure in the country who was awarded the coronation medal in 1974. That is why he feels that he has a very strong social network and can really reach out to the people.

“Providing proper communication facilities and basic amenities such as road, water and electricity which are lacking in most parts of my constituency will be my top agenda,” said Ritu Raj, who holds a Master of Environmental Law (with a major in Democracy and Human Rights and International Law) from the Australian National University.

He strongly believes in the philosophy of Gross National Happiness and is positive that in the next five years Bhutan will make tremendous progress in all areas and people will reap greater benefits.

Although the number of women who have come forward to join politics so far is too few, he feels that Bhutanese women have an equal opportunity to participate in the process. “Bhutanese women are fortunate to have equal opportunity under the law to participate in politics and they should make use of the opportunity,” he said.

Ritu Raj is of the opinion that Bhutan must march toward democracy with right attitude and mindset. And one of the ways in which the present government has tried to ensure that is through the qualification criteria, he said.

Asked whether Bhutan was headed for a stronger upper house, he said: “No, firstly the Constitution does not provide for a stronger upper house. Secondly the upper house is also referred to as the house of elders and it should be manned by experienced and matured people, otherwise, it will be weak and during joint sittings the upper house will not be able to voice itself out.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Acid attack on Bhutan border






A series of news reporting.
1.Refugees Intent on Return to Bhutan Thwarted in Attempt to Cross Border Into India From Nepal
http://www.voanews.com/english/2007-05-29-voa44.cfm

2. Acid attack on Bhutan border
http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070530/asp/nation/story_7850359.asp

3.Indian troops fire to keep refugees out

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=836d86e0-2ca8-4512-8e41-e1ca35dfc2ef&&Headline=Indian+troops+fire+to+keep+refugees+out+

4. Bhutan refugees clash in N Bengal
http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=87330

5. Firing on Bhutanese refugees, one dies
http://www.thestatesman.net/page.news.php?clid=1&theme=&usrsess=1&id=157700

6. Indian police fire on Bhutanese refugees
http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200705/s1937032.htm

7. Indian Troops Fire at Bhutanese Refugees
http://www.courant.com/news/nationworld/wire/sns-ap-nepal-bhutan-refugees,0,6641531.story

8. Clash coincides with mock poll in Bhutan: Marcus Dam
http://www.thehindu.com/2007/05/30/stories/2007053007521200.htm

9.Bhutanese refugees clash with Indian security forces
http://www.thehindu.com/2007/05/30/stories/2007053012520100.htm

10.Indian police fire on Bhutanese refugees fleeing Nepal

http://www.bakutoday.net/view.php?d=37524

11.Indian Police Fire on Bhutanese.
http://rawstory.com/news/dpa/Indian_police_open_fire_on_Bhutanes_05292007.html

12.At least 50 Bhutanese refugees injured in clash with Indian police in Nepal
http://english.people.com.cn/200705/29/eng20070529_379027.html

13.Indian border troops open fire on Bhutanese refugees trying to return home
http://www.pr-inside.com/rss/indian-border-troops-open-fire-on-bhutanese-refugees-trying-to-return-home-r137565.htm

TURMOIL IN CAMPS

India denies passage to Bhutan
Refugee death toll reaches 2
TURMOIL IN REFUGEE CAMPS

BY CHETAN ADHIKARI IN DAMAK, UPENDRA POKHAREL IN KAKARBHITTA & TILAK POKHAREL IN KATHMANDU


KATHMANDU, May 28 - While violence in the Bhutanese refugee camps that started on Sunday took a nasty turn a day later with one more death and dozens more injuries, the turmoil has only been exacerbated as India was on Monday directly dragged into the refugee crisis.
With the death of a refugee, Purna Bahadur Tamang at Beldangi-II camp, the toll reached two on Monday. Tamang, who was injured seriously after he being hit on his back by a police-fired plastic bullet, succumbed to his wounds while undergoing treatment at Amda Hospital. Police had resorted to opening fire after refugees staging demonstrations defying the curfew didn't budge an inch. Eighteen each from the police and demonstrators were injured in the clash.

The condition of two of the 18 injured policemen - DSP Krishna Raj Pathak and assistant head constable Prem Chaudhary - is critical, according to Superintendent of Police Naresh Karki of the Armed Police Force, Pathibhara Battalion. Four of the 18 refugees were injured by rubber bullets. On Sunday, Narapati Dhungel, an eighth grader, had died after being hit by bullets fired by police to disperse the demonstrators pelting stones at them.

Though refugee activists have accused police of "provoking" refugees assembled for Dhungel's funeral procession, police said the situation turned tense when they stopped refugees from marching toward an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) by defying curfew orders.

In a statement in Kathmandu, UNHCR has appealed to the refugees to abide by the laws of the host country.
Police resorted to firing in the air and also fired dozens of teargas shells to disperse the refugees pelting stones at them. Gunshots were heard for around two hours in the area, according to locals. More police reinforcements were mobilized in the area from Kankalini battalion Pakali, Siddhakali battalion Itahari and Urlabari Base Camp after Pathibhara battalion was unable to bring the situation under control.

UNHCR Representative Abraham Abraham said the turmoil in the camps was "a disturbing state of affairs". All humanitarian activities couldn't be carried out in the camps, Monday.

The whole crisis had started on Sunday after some "Maoist refugees", who have been pushing for respectful repatriation to Bhutan while vehemently opposing third country resettlement offers from the US and other countries, thrashed a pro-resettlement refugee activist (Hari Bangale). When police reached there to rescue Bangale, the refugees attacked them, prompting the former to start firing.

India's attempt to stop refugees turns violent

More fuel was added to the flame after Indian security forces' attempt on Monday to stop hundreds of refugee activists trying to march toward Bhutan via India turned violent. Over a dozen refugees sustained injuries as Indian forces deployed along Nepal-India border resorted to baton-charge and fired tear gas shells at Mechi Bridge. Indian forces have arrested 28 refugees, of whom 26 are women.

Accompanied by Indian lawmakers (Dr Sunalim Mishra and Brijbhushan Tiwari, among others) and Nepal's political party leaders, the refugees had reached there on the first day of their "Long March" toward home, but to be returned and arrested by SSB forces. Those being returned have been staging a sit-in protest on the Bridge.

Thinley Penjore, chairman of National Front for Democracy Bhutan which was the organizer of the campaign; Balaram Poudel, DB Rana Sampang and Gup Khilla, all vice chairmen of the organization; and human rights leader DP Kafle, were among those injured in India's crackdown. The injured have been admitted in hospitals in Kakarbhitta, Birtamod, Dhulabari and Bhadrapur.

Indian forces had used force after the refugees forcibly attempted to make their way. The Nepal-India border was sealed from Sunday, while a huge number of security personnel were deployed to foil the refugees' attempt.

Though the organizers "Long March" campaign aimed to assemble over 15,000 refugees at Mechi Bridge, violence in the camp made it impossible.

Most of the 106,000 refugees of Nepali-origin, evicted from Bhutan in the early 1990s in an ethnic cleansing, blame India - which has a huge amount of influence over the Druk regime - of not doing anything to ensure their voluntary repatriation.

A disturbing state of affairs: UNHCR
Expressing "grave concern" over the violence that has "alarmed" him, UNHCR representative Abraham has termed the violence "a disturbing state of affairs" while earnestly calling upon all refugees and concerned parties to resolve the matter peacefully.

"The situation continues to be tense in the camp which seems to have spilled over to other refugee camps in the eastern region," said the statement, adding that UNHCR is reviewing its daily presence in the

camps, until the situation stabilizes, for security of staff and UN property.

The UN refugee agency also expressed its concern that prolongation of the deteriorating security situation in the camps could affect its humanitarian operation, as well as the smooth delivery of food in the camps by the UN World Food Program (WFP).

Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the only implementing INGO of UNHCR, said it couldn't carry out any activity inside the camps on Monday. "LWF's Eastern Region Coordination Unit couldn't carry out any 'normal care and maintenance activities' inside the seven camps," said Beena Kharel, LWF's Communications and Documentation Manager. "We are waiting and watching and we hope that the situation improves and we will be able to carry out normal activities."

Besides UNHCR and LWF, Caritas and WFP are other agencies providing humanitarian support to refugees.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Bhutanese camp under curfew in Nepal

www.chinaview.cn 2007-05-28 15:39:48



KATHMANDU, May 28 (Xinhua) -- The government of Nepal's Jhapa District Monday issued a curfew order in the refugee camp in Beldangi as tensions soared, the local leading media group's website THT Online reported.

The situation on Monday worsened at the Bhutanese refugee camp in Beldangi, some 310 km east of the capital Kathmandu, following the death of a refugee in a clash with Nepali armed police force on Sunday.

In Monday morning, at least six persons including two policemen were injured as clashes continued between the refugees and the police.

The district administration office imposed a curfew in the Beldangi area from 11:45 a.m. (0600 GMT).

Protesting refugees defied the curfew order and continued demonstrations. Police and refugees exchanged stones, and police rained lathis to control the irate refugees.

Nara Pati Dhungel, 17, was killed Sunday when police opened fire after refugees attacked a police team that had gone to the camp after receiving information that refugees were engaged in a fight.

The fight between two groups of refugees, one in favor of the third country resettlement and another for repatriation, broke out following a dispute with Hari Bagale Adhikari, secretary of the camp.

Meanwhile, India sealed its border with Jhapa to foil the refugees' plan for a return to Bhutan Monday.

With the objective of realizing their wish of repatriation, 15,000 out of 106,000 Bhutanese refugees of all the seven camps in Nepal are planning to head towards Bhutan by crossing the Mechi bridge into India.

The march is called on by the National Front for Democracy (NFD-Bhutan). The NFD-Bhutan has already appealed to the Indian government to allow them to walk through India into Bhutan. In the past, Indian security forces always stopped the refugees from crossing into India.

Editor: Xiao Jie

Other source says


Curfew clamped on Bhutanese refugee camp as tension escalates
Posted : Mon, 28 May 2007 07:52:01GMT
Author : DPA
Category : Asia (World)



Kathmandu- An indefinite curfew was imposed Monday on a refugee camp in eastern Nepal after Bhutanese refugees ran amok, attacking security personnel over the shooting death of a refugee by police, officials and local journalists said. The local administration imposed an indefinite curfew on Beldangi camp in Jhapa district, 400 kilometres east of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, as the situation worsened, with the refugees reportedly opening fire on the police.

"At least half a dozen police officers have been injured in the clashes. Two officers sustained bullet injuries after they were shot by refugees," a regional police official in the town of Birtamod said.

According to local journalists, the situation is fast spiraling out of control.

"The refugees have clashed with police despite the curfew. Groups of refugees have organized themselves, attacking officers, and the situation is out of police control," local journalist Chetan Adhikari told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Adhikari said police had fired several rounds of teargas and fired live ammunition into the air to disperse the rioting mob.

The tensions rose on Sunday after the police, trying to control fighting between opposing refugee groups, shot dead a 16-year-old refugee when the mob turned on the officers.

The two groups reportedly clashed over accusations by one of the group members that "certain refugees" were carrying weapons and intimidating people favouring third-country resettlement.

One group, which insists repatriation to Bhutan as the only viable solution to the 16-year-old crisis, also set fire to camp management offices Sunday evening.

Earlier this month the New York based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said tensions were building in refugee camps in eastern Nepal over the United States' decision to resettle as many as 60,000 refugees.

HRW said refugees in favour of resettlement in the United States were being threatened with violence by those who saw repatriation back to Bhutan as the only solution.

According to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, there are just over 104,000 Bhutanese refugees, mostly ethnic Nepalese, living in seven UN-run camps in eastern Nepal. The refugees began arriving in Nepal in the early 1990s during alleged acts of persecution by the Bhutanese government based on cultural, lingual and religious differences.

Some other countries including Norway and Canada have also said they will resettle refugees but have not made public the numbers they are willing to take in.

Government arrests

Monday, May 28,2007
THIMPHU: Lately received news reveals that some six Bhutanese of Nepalese origin have been arrested in Bhutan. This arrest of six Bhutanese citizens has come at a time when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres was already in Bhutan to talk with the authorities there over the repatriation of the Bhutanese refugees languishing in Nepali camps since sixteen years.

The Telegraphnepal.com sources say that those who were arrested are, Sri Ram Chetri, Ratan Magar, Jeet Bahadur Ghaley, Nima Tamang and Prahlad Chetrri.

The campaign for such an arrest was conducted by the Bhutanese police at the wee hours, last Friday.

The whereabouts of all the arrested ones are still unknown, reports say.

Fearing from the eventuality that some belonging to the Southern Bhutan might speak against the discrimination meted out to them by the current Bhutani regime to the visiting UNHCR Chief Antonio Guterras, the Bhutanese police preferred to arrest them in advance.

How the international community including the UNHCR takes the fresh arrests is yet to be known. May 27, 2007





TELEGRAPH |

Bhutanese Refugees In Nepal Deserve Options

Sunday, 27 May 2007, 4:54 pm
Press Release: United Nations
UN Official Says Bhutanese Refugees In Nepal Deserve Options
Bhutanese refugees who have been living in Nepal for some 16 years should have the freedom to make informed decisions about their future, a visiting United Nations official has said.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres told residents at Goldhap camp on Wednesday that there was more than one solution to the plight of over 100,000 Bhutanese who have been living in eastern Nepal for the last 16 years.


The High Commissioner outlined the options during his first official visit to Nepal to focus on current efforts to alleviate the long-standing situation of some 107,000 refugees who have been living in seven camps since the early 1990s.

Mr. Guterres said the agency is "very encouraged by recent interest in resettling some of the refugees," referring to an offer by the United States to accept some 60,000 of the Bhutanese in Nepal. Other countries that have expressed similar interest, UNHCR said.

At the same time, he voiced hope that refugees who wish to return to Bhutan would be able to return home. "Despite 16 years with little success, we will continue to knock on Bhutan's door to seek a solution for those who want to go back."

Mr. Guterres stressed that everyone must have the freedom to make his or her own informed decision. "The option of resettlement or voluntary repatriation is for them to choose and decide," he said, adding that UNHCR's job "is to open as many doors as possible so that they can leave the long years of exile behind them and start a new life as soon as possible."

The UN refugee agency has started a mass information campaign to sensitize refugees in all seven camps on resettlement procedures and their individual right to decide for or against it.

In the capital, Kathmandu, Mr. Guterres met with Nepal's Prime Minister Giriji Prasad Koirala and other senior officials to thank the country for its "very constructive and positive approach" to finding solutions for the refugees befo
residents in Nepal.

Myanmar refugees from Thai camp are being resettled, UN refugee agency says

The second phase of a large-scale resettlement of ethnic Karen refugees from Myanmar has begun with a group of more than 30 leaving a camp in northern Thailand to start a new life in the United States, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

"These refugees who fled fighting in eastern Myanmar have little realistic prospect of going home and they have been leading a very restricted life in the camp for more than a decade," said the UNHCR Representative in Thailand, Hasim Utkan, who was at the camp send-off. "So, while it's hard for them to leave a country just across the border from their homeland, they are excited about a new future in the US."

Between May 16 and the first week of July, 404 refugees are scheduled to depart for the US, with an overall planning figure of nearly 10,000 refugees from Thailand to depart to America by September 30 this year.

"The scale of the resettlement operation is really quite amazing," said Mr. Utkan. "This is something which has rarely been offered in a refugee situation."

Nine Thai government-run refugee camps strung along the border with Myanmar shelter a total of 140,000 refugees.

ENDS

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Interview in FM claims a life: camp tense

Secy interview sparks tense: one dies, dozens injured [2007-05-27]



Beldangi, May 27: At least one died and some dozens sustained injuries at police firing in Beldangi camp on Sunday. The dead has been identified as Narapati Dhunel, 14, of Beldangi-II camp, Sector G/3-38.

The situation became tensed after an unidentified group physically attacked Hari Adhikari Bangale, camp secretary of the same camp accusing him of speaking against the sentiments of youths in camps from Pathivara FM on Saturday. The group also assulted another Hari Adhikari of Beldangi-II extension.

Bangale is reported to have sustained injuries in head and ears.

Those who sustained serious injuries from the firing include Gyan Kumar Rai, 36, of Beldangi-II extension, Toya Nath Khatiwada of Beldangi-II, D/4-85, Dhan Bahadur Rai and Lok Nath Adhikari of Beldangi-I, D/2-118.

Some 24 including four security personnel have also sustained injuries. The condition of those injured is not yet known since ambulance hasn’t reached the site.

Eyewitnesses have claimed that Bangale physically assaulted Bishnu Maya Karki of Beldangi-II, D/3-24 when she inquired him about the contents of his interview with Pathivara FM. The source further quoted Bangale as having said that every youth in camps posses a weapon.

It is learnt that Karki hasn’t yet recovered her consciousness.

Meanwhile, the aggressive mass chanting slogans against Bangale’s interview, later set fire at the Camp Management Committee (CMC) office. The fire has completely destroyed the CMC office since agitators blocked fire brigade from reaching the site.

Some thousands of agitators marching towards security base camp, situated near the camp, along with the dead body burnt effigy of Bangale.

Bangale, also the Executive Director of Bhutanese Durable Solution Coordinating Committee (BRDSCC), is well known as one of the active advocators of the US offer of third country resettlement.

Meanwhile, Setu Nepal, the Director of Kathmandu-based sub-committee of the BRDSCC termed the incident as being ‘pre-planned’. “The remote of this incident is in Kathmandu”, Nepal claimed.

Source from Damak police station informed the BNS over telephone that there are possibilities to clamp curfew if the tensed situation continues. Bhutan News Service/Jeetan Subba and Puspa Adhikari

Saturday, May 26, 2007

US announces resettlement scheme: Refugees will get permanent resident status:

: Envoy [ 2007-5-26 ]
By A Staff Reporter
KATHMANDU, May 25: US Ambassador James F. Moriarty, visiting the Bhutanese refugee camps on Friday announced details of the US offer to resettle at least 60,000 Bhutanese refugees in America, a news release of the American Centre said from Jhapa.

Moriarty also announced that the American Food for Peace (FFP) programme run by USAID will provide an additional US $ 2 million in food aid to the camps.

"I am pleased to announce the selection of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to establish and operate a new Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) in Nepal. IOM will open the US OPE in Kathmandu in July and will begin processing activities in September," he told refugees living in the camps for the last 16 years.

Once resettlement processing begins, it will take a minimum of six months from a family's first interview until their travel to the United States," Moriarty said.

Moriarty unveiled the timeline for the resettlement of the Bhutanese refugees while addressing the refugees in Jhapa.

With the cooperation of the Nepal Government, the US Government will shortly begin large-scale resettlement processing of Bhutanese refugees currently residing in the seven camps here in eastern Nepal. The US programme is expected to run for several years, a news release of the American Center quotes Moriarty as saying.

The United States has offered to consider for resettlement in the US 60,000 or more Bhutanese refugees now in camps in Nepal. The US offer is part of efforts by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Core Working Group of countries trying to find a durable solution to your situation. The Core Working Group includes Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the United States. The group issued a communiqu� in May of this year calling on the governments of Nepal and Bhutan to find a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis, the release said.

"The United States is the world's largest refugee resettlement country. More than two and a half million refugees have found a home in the US since 1975. Our interest in resettlement is a humanitarian one; we believe that our response to refugees is a moral imperative to alleviate the suffering of others," Moriarty said.

However, resettlement in the United States may not be the best option for every Bhutanese refugee, and only those of you who freely choose resettlement in the United States will be considered, he added.

"During the resettlement process, the US government, and I am certain other donor governments, will continue to advocate for the refugees' right of return to their homeland."

Each refugee who applies for resettlement will undergo a face-to-face interview with an official of the US Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Service.�Refugees are approved for admission to the United States based on an evaluation of their refugee claim and their need for resettlement � not on qualities such as job skills, age, or level of education, the release quoted the US ambassador as saying.

Immediate family members approved for US admission are sent to the US together. While any refugee over the age of 21 may choose to resettle on his or her own, if families choose resettlement together, they will not be separated, he said.

"Let me repeat: Families will not be separated. Also, wherever possible, other relatives will be resettled in the same cities. Refugees are resettled in both urban and rural locations throughout the United States."

Each arriving refugee family is sponsored by a non-governmental organisation in the United States that provides initial housing, basic furniture, food and clothing to help you when you first arrive.
These organisations will also help you to find jobs, enroll you in English classes, and register your children in school. You will be eligible to receive cash and medical assistance from the US government for a limited time after your arrival in the United States. Your economic self-sufficiency is an important goal of our resettlement programme, Moriarty said.

Upon arrival in the United States, you are no longer considered a refugee. There are no refugee camps in America. You will not be expelled from the United States. You will be free to move around the country, to seek employment according to your interests, and to worship as you desire, he said.

"After one year in the United States, you may apply for permanent resident status, and after five years, you may become US citizens. This is your choice. Resettlement in the United States does not preclude the possibility of your return to Bhutan should that option become available later. There have been rumors about this and I want to make very clear that those rumors are completely false."

"I am also happy to announce that the United States is making an additional $2 million in-kind contribution to the World Food Programme for Bhutanese refugees. This extra donation through the USAID Food for Peace (FFP) programme is in addition to the US's first donation of $1.8 million earlier this year. Our total contribution this year so far is $3.8 million."

We well appreciate your current status: you cannot engage in economic activities outside the camps; you cannot own land. Humanitarian assistance, like food aid from the donor community, is critical to meeting your basic needs. Over the last six years, the United States has contributed nearly US$ 11.5 million to the Bhutanese refugee food programme, he said.

Friday, May 25, 2007

US Ambassador visits camp

Moriarty visits camp to intensify settlement programe [2007-05-25]



Damak, May 25: US ambassador to Nepal James F. Moriarty, while talking to exiled Bhutanese in Jhapa on Friday said the third country resettlement process would being from September and it takes at least six months to complete the process before travel to the US.

Moriarty, who was on his one-day visit to the camps, said, "Resettlement in the US may not be the best option for every exiled Bhutanese, and only those who freely choose resettlement in the US will be considered."

He further said his government and other donors will continue to advocate for their right of return to their homeland even after they are resettled.

He also announced the additional assistance of US$2 million in-kind contribution to the World Food Program through the USAID Food for Peace (FFP) program.

Exiled Bhutanese are restricted from engaging in economic activities outside the camps and from owning land.

He said, "The US offer is part of efforts by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Core Working Group of countries trying to find a durable solution to your situation. The Core Working Group includes Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the United States."

The group had issued a communiqué in May of this year calling on the governments of Nepal and Bhutan to find a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the crisis.

Moriarty also informed that the US State Department selected the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as the Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) for resettlement programme. Based in Kathmandu, IOM will conduct most processing activities in Jhapa.

The OPE Kathmandu office will start operation from July 2007 and begin processing the first exiled Bhutanese referred by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in September. Bhutan News Service

Moriarty's speech
Jhapa, Friday, May 25, 2007

It is wonderful to be here today to discuss my country's offer to resettle you and your fellow refugees in the United States. The United States has offered to consider for resettlement in the U.S. 60,000 or more Bhutanese refugees now in camps in Nepal. The U.S. offer is part of efforts by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Core Working Group of countries trying to find a durable solution to your situation. The Core Working Group includes Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the United States. The group issued a communiqué in May of this year calling on the governments of Nepal and Bhutan to find a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis.

The United States is the world's largest refugee resettlement country. More than two and a half million refugees have found a home in the U.S. since 1975. Our interest in resettlement is a humanitarian one; we believe that our response to refugees is a moral imperative to alleviate the suffering of others. However, resettlement in the United States may not be the best option for every Bhutanese refugee, and only those of you who freely choose resettlement in the United States will be considered. During the resettlement process, the U.S. Government, and I am certain other donor governments, will continue to advocate for the refugees' right of return to their homeland

With the cooperation of the Nepal Government, the U.S. Government will shortly begin large-scale resettlement processing of Bhutanese refugees currently residing in the seven camps here in eastern Nepal. The U.S. program is expected to run for several years.

I am pleased to announce the selection of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to establish and operate a new Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) in Nepal. IOM will open the U.S. OPE in Kathmandu in July. The OPE will open an office in Jhapa and begin processing activities in September. Once resettlement processing begins, it will take a minimum of six months from a family's first interview until their travel to the United States .

Each refugee who applies for resettlement will undergo a face-to-face interview with an official of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Service. Refugees are approved for admission to the United States based on an evaluation of their refugee claim and their need for resettlement -- not on qualities such as job skills, age, or level of education.

Immediate family members approved for U.S. admission are sent to the U.S. together. While any refugee over the age of 21 may choose to resettle on his or her own, if families choose resettlement together, they will not be separated. Let me repeat: Families will not be separated. Also, wherever possible, other relatives will be resettled in the same cities. Refugees are resettled in both urban and rural locations throughout the United States.

Each arriving refugee family is sponsored by a non-governmental organization in the United States that provides initial housing, basic furniture, food and clothing to help you when you first arrive. These organizations will also help you to find jobs, enroll you in English classes, and register your children in school. You will be eligible to receive cash and medical assistance from the U.S. government for a limited time after your arrival in the United States. Your economic self-sufficiency is an important goal of our resettlement program.

Upon arrival in the United States, you are no longer considered a refugee. There are no refugee camps in America. You will not be expelled from the United States. You will be free to move around the country, to seek employment according to your interests, and to worship as you desire. After one year in the United States, you may apply for permanent resident status, and after five years, you may become U.S. citizens. This is your choice. Resettlement in the United States does not preclude the possibility of your return to Bhutan should that option become available later. There have been rumors about this and I want to make very clear that those rumors are completely false.

Before I take questions, I am also happy to announce that the United States is making an additional $2 million in-kind contribution to the World Food Program for Bhutanese refugees. This extra donation through the USAID Food for Peace (FFP) program is in addition to the U.S.'s first donation of $1.8 million earlier this year. Our total contribution this year so far is $3.8 million. We well appreciate your current status: you cannot engage in economic activities outside the camps; you cannot own land. Humanitarian assistance, like food aid from the donor community, is critical to meeting your basic needs. Over the last six years, the United States has contributed nearly US$ 11.5 million to the Bhutanese refugee food program.

Thank you very much for your attention.

NEPAL-BHUTAN: UNHCR in new move on Bhutanese refugees





Young Bhutanese boys outside the Khundunabari refugee camp in southeastern Nepa
KATHMANDU, 24 May 2007 (IRIN) - In a move to resolve the crisis faced by over 108,000 Bhutanese refugees, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is all set to have direct talks with the Bhutanese government to discuss repatriating the refugees to their homes and exploring other possible options.

"There is a clear preference of the Bhutanese refugees to return home and that has to be respected," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told IRIN in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, before his departure for Bhutan on Thursday.

"Despite 16 years with little success, we will continue to knock on Bhutan's door to seek a solution for those who want to go back," Guterres said.

Guterres arrived in Nepal on Tuesday, his first official visit to the refugee camps in eastern Nepal where the UNHCR and Nepalese government set up camps in 1990 to provide shelter for Bhutanese citizens of Nepalese origin.

Known as Lhotsampas in Bhutan, they were forcibly evicted from their homes by the Bhutanese government, which introduced a new law stripping them of citizenship and civil rights because of their Nepalese ancestry.

Optimism

...we will continue to knock on Bhutan's door to seek a solution for those who want to go back.
The refugees have been pleading for help from the UN to send them home for many years and are now quite optimistic owing to the visit by the high commissioner.

"All doors were closed until now. We are very encouraged by recent interest in resettling some of the refugees," explained Guterres, referring to the United States' offer to accept some 60,000 of the refugees. Other countries have expressed similar interest. However, he said the refugees should be allowed to return home if that was their wish.

According to the refugees, nearly 15 rounds of talks between the governments of Nepal and Bhutan to resolve the problem have come to nothing. The refugees are becoming ever more desperate, their health is worsening and their children mostly are not able to attend school, aid workers say.

Visit to Goldhap camp

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During his visit to one of the biggest Bhutanese refugee camps, Goldhap camp in eastern Nepal, nearly 700km east of Kathmandu, Guterres told the refugees that everyone should have the freedom to make his or her own informed decision.

"The UNHCR's only agenda is the people - their needs and their will," he said. "We cannot play god. The option of resettlement or voluntary repatriation is for them to choose and decide. Our job is to open as many doors as possible so that they can leave the long years of exile behind them and start a new life as soon as possible."

The UNHCR has started an information campaign to raise awareness among refugees in all seven camps about resettlement procedures and their individual right to decide.

U.N. refugee agency chief leaves for Bhutan to discuss refugees

The Associated PressPublished: May 24, 2007


KATMANDU, Nepal: The U.N.'s top refugee official headed to Bhutan on Thursday to urge the government to accept the return of thousands of refugees who fled to neighboring Nepal during a violent campaign to flush out ethnic Nepalese living there.

Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioners for Refugees, left Nepal after meeting groups of Bhutanese refugees who have lived in U.N.-run camps for 16 years, said the UNHCR office in the Nepalese capital, Katmandu.

"We hope to have meaningful and constructive dialogue with the government of Bhutan," Guterres told reporters Wednesday.

He did not elaborate on what he would offer the Bhutanese government to resolve the situation of the more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in southeast Nepal.

Guterres said most of the refugees indicated they wanted to return to their homeland.

Today in Asia - Pacific
Thailand set to make Buddhism the state religionThe chairman of a South Korean conglomerate faces assault chargesSex education curriculum angers Indian conservatives"That's why I am going to Bhutan," he said.

There have been reports recently claiming the refugees were divided about whether to continue pushing for a return to Bhutan or to be resettled in other countries — including a U.S. offer to accept 60,000 of them.

More than 100,000 ethnic Nepalis — a Hindu minority in Bhutan for centuries — have been living as refugees in Nepal since the early 1990s, when they were forced out by Bhutanese authorities who wanted to impose the country's dominant Buddhist culture across the country.

While Bhutan, the world's last Buddhist kingdom, is slowly moving toward democracy, it refuses to allow the refugees to return, claiming most left voluntarily and renounced their citizenship.

The refugees are living in seven U.N.-run camps about 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of Katmandu.

Relations between Nepal and Bhutan have been strained by the refugee issue.

There have been several rounds of talks between ministers and top officials of the two nations, but there has not been any significant progress.

Guterres met top government officials in Nepal during this trip, including Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan.

UN envoy to discuss refugee return with Bhutan

From correspondents in Kathmandu, Nepal, 12:33 PM IST

Despite an offer by the US and other western countries to provide a new home to Bhutanese refugees, many of who want to go back, UN's top envoy for refugees is going to Bhutan Thursday to broach the repatriation issue afresh.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who has visited India and Nepal, the other two key players in the 16-year tragedy, will seek to thaw an obdurate Bhutan that has steadfastly refused to take back the nearly 106,000 people of Nepali origin it forced to flee their homes in the 1990s.

'With many refugees, there is a clear preference to return,' Guterres said in Kathmandu, after returning from eastern Nepal where he had gone Wednesday to visit the diaspora.

'That has to be respected.

'That is why I am going to Bhutan.'

However, since the US government last month offered 'as many Bhutanese refugees as were interested' the chance to resettle in American cities and rural areas, the UNHCR is also discussing resettlement with Nepal, the host country, as part of a comprehensive and durable solution.

'Our objective is to open as many doors as possible,' the former Portuguese prime minister said.

The seeds of the Bhutanese imbroglio were sown in the 1980s after Bhutan passed a new citizenship act that cancelled the citizenship of many ethnic Nepalis and a conducted new census.

Mass protests against the acts in 1990 led to a massive crackdown on the community, causing tens of thousands to flee the country.

While 15,000-30,000 refugees have been residing in India since then, the majority came to Nepal.

Currently, there are nearly 106,000 Bhutanese refugees leading a bleak life in seven camps in eastern Nepal, administered by the UNHCR.

Though Bhutan had been parrying efforts by the international community to allow the refugees to return and 16 rounds of talks with Nepal resulted in naught, the UNHCR is hoping for a positive change after nearly two decades.

Besides the resettlement offer by the western countries, the first positive change is the new Nepal government saying yes to it. Till now, it had been blocked with Nepal insisting on repatriation first.

A thaw is also discerned in the attitude of the Indian government.

The international community, UNHCR and refugees say India, Bhutan's biggest donor and trading partner, can exert considerable influence on Thimphu. New Delhi has so far kept out of the dispute, saying it is a bilateral matter between Nepal and Bhutan.

However, Guterres, who visited New Delhi about two months ago, says an agreement has been reached with the Indian authorities to hold a yearly consultation, where all relevant data will be analysed together.

Before his Bhutan visit, the UN envoy has a word of assurance to lull the fears that Bhutan is readying for a fresh crackdown on ethnic Nepalis still living in Bhutan.

The latest census in Bhutan marks about 13 percent of the population as foreigners. Refugee groups fear they include largely ethnic Nepalis, who can see a recurrence of the 1991 backlash.

However, Guterres said it was his 'sincere belief' that such a tragedy would not recur.


(Staff Writer, © IANS)

UNHCR to take initiative for return of Bhutanese refugees back home

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres has said that he would take the initiative for the return of the Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal back to their country, the National News Agency, RSS reported Thursday.

Addressing a gathering after inspecting the Bhutanese refugees camp at Goldhap, Jhapa in eastern Nepal Wednesday, he said living a life of a refugee was a suffering in itself and gave assurances of taking up the issue during his visit to Bhutan.

On the occasion, he said that it was the Bhutanese refugees who should decide whether they want to return back to their country or to resettle in a third country. The UNHCR was ready to assist them wherever they would live, he added.

Even if the refugees are taken to a third country, Bhutan should always keep its door open for its citizens, he said.

He also disclosed that the census of the refugees had been completed and would soon be made public.

An estimated 105,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s.

In November 2005, seven countries -- Canada, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the United States -- formed a working group to support the UNHCR's efforts.

Source: Xinhua

Explore all avenues for repatriation: UNHCR chief

[ 2007-5-24 ]

KATHMANDU, May 23: The visiting chief of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres has called on all relevant partners to be engaged for a comprehensive solution of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.

After his visit to the refugee camps in Jhapa of eastern Nepal, he said, "We had to provide all possible opportunities to the refugees who are languishing in the camps for 16 years."

At a press conference in Kathmandu Wednesday before leaving for Bhutan to address the problem, he said, "Our duty is to explore and provide opportunities but the decision is of the refugees' themselves."

Terming voluntary repatriation an important component for permanent solution, he said, "We believe that voluntary resettlement can also be opportunity for many people." "My appeal to Bhutan is for very constructive and open attitude," he said.

Asked about the mindset of the refugees in the camp regarding returning to homeland and being resettled in third countries, he said that he could contemplate from his discussions with whom he talked, many of them preferred to return to their homeland. "But we should provide maximum number of opportunities," he added.

He said that he expected positive commitment from the Government of India to help in solving the refugee problems. "I don't have any political objective, my only objective is solution for the people who have been in the refugee camp from 16 years."

He said that UNHCR in collaboration of the Nepal government was also engaged in providing support in the refugee camps for fighting against many problems.

He also expressed gratitude to the countries willing to accept Bhutanese refugees for resettlement with open mind. "The contribution of the countries in this region can also be very important and the help of the international community can also be of extreme relevance in this situation."

He said he had very positive and meaningful discussion with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and other authorities of Nepal. "UNHCR will be working together with the government of Nepal in finding a common way to this complex issue."

He expressed deep appreciation for positive and constructive attitude of the government of Nepal in relation to the solution of the refugee problem. He termed Nepal's visit as meaningful, productive and positive.

He also expressed admiration for peace process taking place in Nepal and said, "It is a remarkable achievement."

The High Commissioner arrived in Kathmandu on Tuesday and he met Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan and also visited the refugee camps in Jhapa district. He will be leaving for Bhutan on Thursday morning.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bhutan Continues Dry Run Towards Democracy

By Steve Herman
Thimpu, Bhutan
22 May 2007

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There is anxiety in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, where "gross national happiness" is the metric of success. Changes are occurring swiftly since King Jigme Singye Wangchuck suddenly retired last year, handing power to his 26-year-old son who will be formally crowned next year. The senior monarch also declared that Bhutan's kings should no longer have absolute power, and has nudged his somewhat reluctant subjects towards a constitutional monarchy and an elected national legislature. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Thimpu, Bhutan, on the latest steps in the "Land of the Thunder Dragon's" journey to democracy.


Bhutanese are anxious about the current transition from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy

Bhutan is in the process of holding its first general election, sort of. It is actually a mock election, a two-part practice exercise that began last month when voters chose among four shades of "Thunder Dragon" political parties: red, green, yellow and blue. Yellow and red were the top vote-getters, and stand-in candidates - in this case high school students from the two fictional parties - will be on the ballots for the practice run-off vote next Monday.

The mock elections are aimed at preparing the people of this landlocked mountainous country for the real thing, and the population of fewer than 700,000 people is taking the exercise seriously.

The first real vote, later this year, will send 20 non-partisan candidates to the National Council, the upper house of the new parliament. The king will nominate five additional "eminent persons" to the Council. Next year, the public will elect 47 party-affiliated politicians to the National Assembly, the lower house, where they will serve five-year terms.

Chief Election Commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi says the mock elections are necessary to teach Bhutanese how the democratic process works, and to convince them that the government is sincere about holding free and fair elections.

"Till that time, I think, probably people did not really believe it," he said. "It may be coming, it may not be so. Now they know for sure that the elections are going to happen. Therefore there is enthusiasm being generated in terms of better voter registration, and people trying to understand more about democracy and how effectively they can participate."

A democracy needs not only voters, but candidates. Initially it was feared there might be a dearth of potential lawmakers in a country with no tradition of politicking. Now, at least three parties are forming, and prospective candidates are emerging.

One of them is Lekey Dorji, whose only experience with elections was being voted chief prefect of his school in ninth grade. Dorji went on to earn an engineering degree from the University of Kansas in the United States. After graduate studies in Britain, he returned home to work for the national phone company, and then became an Internet entrepreneur in the capital, Thimpu.

Dorji is running for the seat in his home district, a rural area where electricity is virtually non-existent and roads few and far between. He is promising development for his constituents, who are mainly farmers.

"If I'm elected, I would be ashamed if I don't deliver on those promises," he said. "Of course, you will also not be promising things that you can't really deliver. But I'm quite positive that through [the] democratic process that we will be able to help our people in the constituencies. These are the people who really need help."

But there is also skepticism about democracy here. Even the elections chief acknowledges that democracy has an image problem, perhaps because elections in neighboring democracies are a rough-and-tumble exercise, and many of those elected are of dubious repute.

"They think democracy means the player from wealth and muscle power, all is sort of battle between vested interests," he added.

Candidate Dorji also realizes his career change is fraught with challenges in a nation where most people strongly express contentment with the hereditary monarchy that has ruled for the past 100 years.

"Through the media and all, we always hear about politicians being greedy, politicians being bad," added candidate Dorji. "They are quite anxious. They have enjoyed the prosperity, the happiness, under the kings. This is an irreversible process our king has initiated, we just can't go back."

One of the first duties of the novice legislators will be formally approving the draft constitution, another departure for the kingdom. The document calls for kings to retire as head of state at age 65, recognizes Buddhism as the "spiritual heritage" of Bhutan, and ensures that a minimum of 60 percent of the country's total land will forever remain under forest cover.

Canada to accept 5,000 Bhutanese refugees

Canada will resettle up to 5,000 Bhutanese refugees who have been living in camps in Nepal since the 1990s, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley announced Tuesday.

"Our decision to resettle up to 5,000 refugees in Canada is part of a coordinated effort by a number of countries to address this long-standing refugee situation once and for all," said Finley in Toronto.

"Today marks an important milestone in the effort to resolve a long-standing situation of forced displacement," said Peter MacKay, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

An estimated 108,000 Bhutanese refugees of ethnic Nepalese descent have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s.

Over the past few years, the UNHCR has worked to find a solution for the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal that would involve a combination of voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement.

In November 2005, seven countries, Canada, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the United States, formed a working group to support the UNHCR's efforts.

The mostly ethnic Nepali Hindus were expelled from Bhutan in 1990 when the Buddhist kingdom launched cultural reforms encouraging the use of Bhutan's language and national dress.

More ethnic Nepalis were later evicted for allegedly entering the country illegally.

It is expected that the Bhutanese refugees will arrive in Canada over the next three to five years.

Overall, Canada's resettlement program accepts over 11,000 refugees annually from around the world.

Source: Xinhua

PM says repatriation is first priority

In his meeting with the visiting United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres at Baluwatar, on Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has said that repatriation still remains the first priority of Nepal government.

Amid offers for third country resettlement by the United States and other western countries, PM Koirala told the visiting delegate that resettlement is of second priority.

PM's foreign policy adviser Dr. Suresh Chalise told media that PM Koirala also requested Guterres to apply pressure on Bhutanese government to allow safe repatriation of its refugees. Guterres is leaving for Thimpu after completing his three-day visit to Nepal.

Guterres also met with Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan on Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier, talking to reporters upon his arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport on Tuesday, Guterres hoped the Nepal government would be able to find a permanent solution to the crisis soon. He said his tour would focus on getting detailed information about the Bhutanese refugees. nepalnews.com sd May 22 07

UN optimistic on respectful return home of Bhutanese refugees

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antnio Guterres Tuesday said that he was optimistic that the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal would return to their homelands in a "respectful" manner.

Talking to media persons upon his arrival at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Guterres, who had arrived here on a three-day visit to Nepal, said that he was confident that with the peace process progressing, the refugee problem will also be solved.

Guterres said that a joint effort from all sides was necessary for the resolution of the Bhutanese refugee crisis.

He further said that the refugee issue was a human issue and all concerned sides must work while keeping this in mind.

"We all need to work together to sort the problem of the people. It is the people that matter," Gutterrez said.

Stating that at present, numerous ways to resolve refugee problems had appeared, the UNHCHR head said that this had created a good opportunity for a joint effort to this end.

He is scheduled to meet high level government officials, UN officials and heads of donor agencies during his stay in Nepal.

Some 105,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal for the last 16 years.

As many as 15 rounds of bilateral talks held between the two governments have failed to yield any results so far.

Source: Xinhua

U.S. Resettlement Offer Gives Hope, Creates Tension Among Bhutanese Refugees

Liam Cochrane | Bio | 22 May 2007
World Politics Review Exclusive
KATMANDU, Nepal -- Tucked away in the forests of eastern Nepal, acres of neatly organized bamboo huts accommodate the victims of one of the world's most intractable refugee situations. For 16 years, tens of thousands of Bhutanese refugees have languished in seven overcrowded camps, relying on international aid for food and shelter, and slowly losing hope.

Today, many are pinning the last of those fading hopes on an offer from the United States to resettle 60,000 people. But the offer has also caused a schism amongst the refugees. While many see this as the only viable option to move on with their lives, a bullying minority insist that repatriation should be the only option.

"If you speak of resettlement, your head will be in a bag and your body will be at the side of the river," was the message hand-delivered to two camp secretaries who were in favor of the U.S. offer, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

The HRW report documents the deteriorating conditions and rising tensions in the camps and also gives a few rare glimpses into the current human rights situation within the isolated kingdom of Bhutan.

The discrimination which continues in Bhutan today, according to HRW, has its roots in the same "ethnic cleansing" which resulted in the thousands of refugees being stranded in Nepal.

During the 1980s, the Dzongkha-speaking Buddhists who rule Bhutan began to fear the growing influence of the Nepali-speaking Hindus in the south. The government tightened citizenship laws and used those laws -- combined with arrests, torture and threats -- to force ethnic-Nepali Bhutanese citizens out of the country.
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Neighboring India wanted nothing to do with the refugees and transported them to Nepal, where they have remained ever since. There are now 106,000 people living in seven camps -- roughly a sixth of the current population of Bhutan.

Fifteen rounds of negotiations between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal have come to nothing and the despair of prolonged statelessness has begun to show itself in ugly forms. Domestic violence is on the rise and frustrated young men are increasingly keen on beginning an armed Maoist struggle in Bhutan, says HRW.

Adding to the hardship, international donors are growing weary of supporting the refugees and have cut food rations, reduced the amount of plastic sheeting given to repair hut roofs and switched from clean-burning kerosene cooking oil to smoky briquettes.

"The life in the camps is miserable," said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director for HRW and a researcher for their latest report. "These are closed camps, people are not allowed to work in Nepal, they can look out and see farms that Nepali farmers in the surrounding areas are farming but they don't have that right themselves."

With mounting hardships and no sign of change from Bhutan, many are considering the U.S. offer favorably. There is also interest from other nations -- such as Australia, Canada and Norway -- to accept a small number of refugees. While the application process for resettlement hasn't yet started, the U.S. embassy has received thousands of spontaneous appeals from refugees.

"In these circumstances, the only feasible option is resettlement," said Ashok Gurung, a 29-year old student who left behind parents and two siblings when he fled in 1992.

But voicing that opinion in the camps can be dangerous, especially for refugee leaders.

"We campaign for all three options [repatriation, resettlement and local integration] but they say we are only for resettlement," camp secretary Hari Adhikari Bangaley told HRW. "There are demonstrations against. They burn effigies of us. They have damaged my motorbike. They have surrounded me. They have threatened to cut my throat."

The HRW report said some of the strongest opposition to resettlement came from refugee leaders who live in Nepal's capital of Katmandu, outside the daily grind of life in the camps. The report singles out Tek Nath Rizal, who was a member of Bhutan's Royal Advisory Council before falling out of favor and being imprisoned in 1989. He gained "an almost mythical status" while in prison and became the de facto spokesman for the movement when he was released a decade later.

From the relative comfort of his Katmandu home, Rizal strongly advocated repatriation as the only solution, despite the slim chance of this happening anytime soon. Last year, when six of the seven camp secretaries organized a press conference to welcome the U.S. resettlement offer, Rizal promptly dismissed them from one of the numerous committees he chairs.

In a more recent interview with WPR, Rizal's stance had softened and he now says every refugee has the right to decide for themselves whether they pursue a third country option.

But if the Katmandu-based leaders are mellowing, at least publicly, the militants in the camps are not. Thousands of frustrated young men provide easy fodder for the Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), which has held "cultural programs" urging refugees to fight for their right to return and holding marches with wooden rifles.

"It is important that durable solutions come soon, because youths especially are frustrated and are joining radical groups," a representative of an international human rights organization working in the camps told HRW. "They also see the example of the Nepalese Maoists. They want to do radical activities in Nepal as well as Bhutan."

While Nepal's Maoists support the ideology of their Bhutanese comrades, officially there are no financial or military links. To date, the overt activities of the Maoists have been limited, but their presence instills fear amongst other refugees in the camps, who feel afraid to publicly support third-country resettlement.

For now, however, resettlement appears to be the only durable option, given the lack of interest from Nepal regarding local integration and the ongoing campaign against ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan.

Human Rights Watch says much of the discrimination involves using administrative tools and fear.

Interviews with Bhutanese suggested that police are routinely denying ethnic Nepalis the crucial "no objection certificates" they need to study, trade, own land and sell crops. These certificates are meant to confirm that the recipient is not involved in "anti-national activity" but in reality are used to punish those who speak out against the regime.

Even those with relatives in the refugee camps are refused NOC documents, making many Bhutanese terrified of being caught contacting family stranded in Nepal.

Ashok Gurung has been in and out of contact with his family since he fled Bhutan in 1992. Three months ago, he was told his parents had moved to Thimphu to escape forced labor schemes, which demanded up to three days unpaid work a week.

"I heard that my parents are internal refugees working in the capital," said Gurung, whose teenage protests against the government resulted in his father being imprisoned, but later released.

Almost every Bhutanese refugee wants firstly to return to their homeland, but a new generation of activists sees resettlement in the United States as another way to achieve that goal.

Resettlement will in no way surrender their "right to return" to Bhutan under international law and may even give this articulate community of forgotten people a greater chance of being heard.

Ashok Gurung: "We believe that pressurizing the government of Bhutan [while] living in the eastern camps of Jhapa [Nepal], will not be as forceful as what we shout from the international levels."

Liam Cochrane is a freelance journalist based in Katmandu.

UNHCR chief arrives in Kathmandu; blast destroys bus in Bhutan

At a time when resettlement of Bhutanese refugees is under debate, the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres has said UNHCR is in favour of repatriating the refugees to their homeland in a dignified manner.



Talking to reporters upon his arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport on Tuesday, Guterres hoped the Nepal government would be able to find a permanent solution to the crisis soon. He said his tour would focus on getting detailed information about the Bhutanese refugees.

On the first day of his three-day visit, Guterres will meet Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan to discuss the refugee issue.

Guterres's visit to Nepal comes at a time when the refugee issue has drawn the world's attention.

He will visit Goldhap camp in Jhapa district to assess the situation of the camps and refugees' interest on three options floated by the UNHCR.

Guterres will visit Bhutan after competing his visit to Nepal.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan had said western countries have proposed to resettle at least 85,000 of the 107,000 Bhutanese refugees. She said the government would dispatch a delegation to Thimpu soon to hold final round of talks with Druk regime.

Meanwhile, president of Druk National Congress Thinley Penjore compared his country with the cage for human beings. He leads the party in exile.

In another development, the Bhutan government controlled Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) reported that a blast of an improvised device in bordering town Phuntsholing badly destroyed a passenger bus.

Since the bus was parked at a workshop, no human casualty was reported. The police is investigating the incident. nepalnews.com ia May 22 07

Bhutanese refugees in India eager for resettlement in US

From correspondents in Kathmandu, Nepal, 12:33 PM IST

The US government's offer to resettle Bhutanese refugees languishing in Nepal for nearly two decades has triggered eagerness among their peers in India to start a new life on American soil.

According to the US State Department, nearly 15,000-30,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in India since the 1990s when Bhutanese citizens of Nepali origin were forced to flee their homes following the Druk government's crackdown on ethnic communities.

While the nearly 106,000 Bhutanese living in Nepal have been given refugee status by the Nepal government and now have received an offer by Washington to resettle in the US, their counterparts in India are worse off.

Many of those refugees in India were among the poorest in Bhutan and did not have the resources to make it to the refugee camps in Nepal administered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees with donations from the international community.

'All of them live on the margins of society, without citizenship and with no legal status in India,' says a report issued by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week.

Officials of the NGO, who visited India in November to compile the report, 'Last Hope: The need for durable solutions for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and India', say the refugees in India told them they were as much in need of a 'durable solution' as those in Nepal.

'I have heard about the US proposal,' one of them told HRW. 'If they (refugees in Nepal) go, why not us? We were evicted from the same villages, for the same reason.'

Another refugee lamented that the community in India was ignored by the donors.

'Whenever people from the international refugee organisations come, they go to the camps (in Nepal),' the Bhutanese living in India told HRW.

'Of course there are many more refugees there, but we are forced to live here and can go nowhere. We are trapped.'

HRW is urging the Indian government to provide a durable solution for the distressed community.

It suggests that either their status be legalised in India or they be given the opportunity to acquire Indian citizenship. Else, they should be included in the resettlement efforts that have started for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.

The Indian government has consistently refused to speak out on the refugee issue, calling it a bilateral matter between Nepal and Bhutan. But since India has considerable influence on the Bhutan government by virtue of being the kingdom's largest donor and trade partner, HRW has renewed the call by the international community for India to act as a mediator.

The group is also urging India to ask Bhutan to stop the discrimination against ethnic Bhutanese living in Bhutan and make it clear that further expulsion of citizens would be 'unacceptable'.


(Staff Writer, © IANS)

Monday, May 21, 2007

'King main cause Bhutan's suffring'

Tuesday, May 22,2007
KATHMANDU: Mr. Thinley Penjore, the President of Druk National Congress and Vice Chairman of Bhutanese Movement Steering Committee, has said that “if there is any human zoo to be visited, it is Bhutan where people live a dictated and a docile life under the illusive policy of “driglam namzha”-the so called etiquette of life”. Mr. Penjore made these observations today in Kathmandu at an IFA-Institute of Foreign Affairs-Seminar on “different dimensions of Bhutanese refugee problems”. Mr. Penjore making a short remark at the inaugural session of the said seminar also squarely blamed the Bhutanese monarch for the continued sufferings of the Bhutanese refugees. Look what he says of the Bhutan King: “the Bhutanese King is solely responsible for refugee making and leaving a declining legacy for the new regime”.

Nevertheless, Mr. Penjore demands New Delhi intervention in sorting out the refugee crisis. He says, “It is our belief that a slight move by Delhi will make the difference in helping to bring about an amicable solution to the refugee imbroglio”.

(The author’s full text will be available at the telegraphnepal.com Tuesday evening in our opinion column of the Telegraph Weekly dated May 23, 2007-ed. May 21, 2007)

Five countries ready to let in 85,000 refugees in Nepal

www.chinaview.cn 2007-05-22 11:06:58



KATHMANDU, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Nepali Minister for Foreign Affairs Sahana Pradhan has said five countries were ready to absorb up to 85,000 Bhutanese refugees, The Himalayan Times reported on Tuesday.

According to the daily, this includes the United States' offer to let in up to 60,000 refugees, Canada's proposal to take 5,000 and Denmark's 200.

Australia and the Netherlands are yet to announce the number of refugees they want to accommodate.

"We urge Bhutan to allow repatriation of at least some refugees as a symbolic gesture to show it wants a durable solution," Pradhan said Monday on the eve of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres' arrival in Kathmandu on a three-day visit.

She said Nepal "appreciates" the international community's concern for the resettlement of Bhutanese refugees.

Stating that resettlement was only an "interim solution", Pradhan said it should not be seen as a policy for preventing refugees from returning home.

UNHCR representative in Nepal Abraham Abraham said, "As an Indian I believe India must play a role to resolve Bhutanese refugees' problems."

This was the first time he had made such a remark. He said UNHCR was here to assist the governments of Nepal and Bhutan and the international community.

Some 105,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal for the last 16 years.

As many as 15 rounds of bilateral talks held between the two governments have failed to yield any results so far.

Nepal: La oferta estadounidense de reasentar refugiados butaneses desata tensiones (Spanish)

Nepal: La oferta estadounidense de reasentar refugiados butaneses desata tensiones
Los refugiados tienen derecho a regresar, pero deben ser libres de elegir otras opciones
(Katmandú, 17 de mayo de 2007) – Una oferta de Estados Unidos de reasentar a 60.000 refugiados butaneses ha sembrado la esperanza entre muchos de los 106.000 refugiados que llevan viviendo más de 16 años en Nepal, pero también ha aumentado las tensiones en los campamentos, señaló Human Rights Watch en un informe publicado hoy. Los refugiados que insisten en la repatriación como la única solución aceptable han estado amenazando e intimidando a los que manifiestan su apoyo al reasentamiento en Estados Unidos.
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Los refugiados tienen fundamentalmente derecho a regresar a un país que les haya expulsado. Pero todo refugiado también tiene derecho a tomar decisiones esenciales sobre su vida sin amenazas ni intimidación.
Bill Frelick, director de política sobre refugiados en Human Rights Watch



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La crisis de refugiados butaneses comenzó en 1991, cuando Bután empezó a expulsar a personas de origen nepalí, una política que se saldó con la expulsión de una sexta parte de la población del país. Pero desde el anuncio de la oferta estadounidense, en octubre de 2006, los grupos de refugiados que insisten en que la única solución aceptable es el regreso a Bután han amenazado a los refugiados favorables al reasentamiento.

“Los refugiados tienen fundamentalmente derecho a regresar a un país que les haya expulsado”, señaló Bill Frelick, director de política sobre refugiados en Human Rights Watch. “Pero todo refugiado también tiene derecho a tomar decisiones esenciales sobre su vida sin amenazas ni intimidación”, agregó.

El informe de 90 páginas, “Last Hope: The Need for Durable Solutions for Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal and India” (La última esperanza: La necesidad de soluciones duraderas para los refugiados butaneses en Nepal e India) explica las posibles soluciones a esta prolongada crisis de refugiados y las posibilidades con que actualmente cuentan los refugiados. Describe las condiciones de los refugiados de origen nepalí que llevan muchos años exiliados en Nepal e India, y documenta la discriminación constante contra las personas de origen nepalí que siguen viviendo en Bután, temerosas de que también les puedan quitar la ciudadanía y expulsarles del país.

“Aunque la repatriación sería la mejor opción para la mayoría de los refugiados, sólo puede ser viable si Bután respeta su deber de garantizar los derechos humanos de los refugiados”, señaló Frelick. “Hasta entonces, no se puede promover la repatriación como solución duradera para los refugiados butaneses en Nepal”, agregó.

Hasta ahora, no ha permitido el regreso de ningún refugiado. En consecuencia, los refugiados llevan años hacinados en campamentos sin posibilidades de solución. El informe documenta la vida en los campamentos y la violencia doméstica y otros problemas sociales que se han producido después de prolongados períodos en campamentos cerrados.

“No queremos depender de otros”, dijo una refugiada butanesa a Human Rights Watch. “Nos hemos pasado la mitad de la vida como refugiados. No queremos que nuestros hijos lleven ese estigma. Queremos que estén orgullosos de ser ciudadanos”, agregó.

Desde el anuncio de la oferta de reasentamiento de Estados Unidos, han ido creciendo las tensiones en los campamentos. Esto se debe en parte a los rumores y la desinformación sobre las características de la propia oferta. También se debe a la intimidación de grupos militantes que se oponen al reasentamiento e insisten en que la única solución aceptable es el regreso a Bután.

“La gente se siente insegura”, dijo una joven. “Si otros se enteran de que estas buscando otras opciones diferentes a la repatriación, te condenan por no estar a favor de la repatriación o reducir las posibilidades de una repatriación. Otros te acusan de no tener amor por el país”, agregó.

Human Rights Watch instó al gobierno nepalí a que enjuicie a los intimidadores que amenazan o dañan a os que ejercen su derechos a la libertad de opinión, expresión o asociación.

“Para poder lograr cualquier solución, Nepal debe ofrecer suficiente seguridad en los campamentos para que los refugiados puedan expresar sus opiniones e intercambiar información libremente”, señaló Frelick.

El informe trata las posibles soluciones a esta prolongada crisis de refugiados y las opciones con las que cuentan los refugiados.

“Para ser efectiva, la oferta de reasentamiento a Estados Unidos no puede ser una posibilidad aislada”, señaló Frelick. “Los refugiados butaneses tienen que contar con verdaderas opciones”, agregó.

Esto requiere una estrategia con tres componentes. Primero, el reasentamiento debe ser una opción real para todos los refugiados que lo quieran. Esto implica que otros países deben sumarse a un esfuerzo coordinado para maximizar el número de lugares de reasentamiento. Los refugiados butaneses que viven fuera de los campamentos en Nepal e India también deben tener derecho a reasentarse. Nepal debe cooperar con la opción del reasentamiento, en concreto, emitiendo sin dilación permisos de salida a los refugiados que acepten el reasentamiento.

Segundo, Nepal debe conceder la ciudadanía a los refugiados que expresen una preferencia por la integración local sobre el reasentamiento o la repatriación. Finalmente, Estados Unidos, India y otros países deben redoblar sus esfuerzos por persuadir a Bután de que permita la repatriación de los refugiados que lo deseen en condiciones compatibles con el derecho de derechos humanos.

“La posibilidad de que muchos refugiados puedan elegir otras opciones debe hacer mucho más fácil que Bután acepte la repatriación”, señaló Frelick. “Los países de reasentamiento deben presionar a Bután para que adopte una solución realmente integral para esta prolongada crisis de refugiados”, agregó.

The Alliance must come up with its voice in favour of repatriation

PM to sort out issues before polls
Monday, May 21,2007
KATHMANDU: Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and strongman of the Nepal Workers’ and Peasants’ Party (NWPP) Narayan Man Bijukchhe today conferred on current issues, including the expediency of announcing the date for the constituent assembly election.
Quoting Koirala, an NWPP leader, Prem Suwal, told this daily that “the eight-party meeting cannot be held until and unless outstanding issues are sorted out.”
The date for constituent assembly polls can be announced only after a number of issues play out in a desired way, Suwal quoted Koirala as saying.
The nagging issues which are deterring Koirala from making an early announcement of the date for the CA election range from intimidation of the Young Communist League (YCL), return of the property seized by the Maoists to the rightful owners and fulfilment of demands raised by Tarai-centric members of parliament.
Bijukchhe also took up the issue of repatriation of Bhutanese refugees with Koirala. The former said that the alliance must come up with its voice in favour of repatriation specially after the graduation to loktantra.
The NWPP leader called for the appointment of officials in the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), while Koirala said that the appointment of Biswanath Upadhayay as the NHRC chief was still valid. Koirala said he was insisting on eight-party endorsement before picking up members.
Meanwhile, the NWPP has demanded that the 99 ropani of land near Sallaghari in Bhaktapur, which belongs to the Royal Palace, be allotted to the proposed Khowpa University. Bijukchhe made the demand at the meeting with the PM. “The PM has given a positive indication,” said Suwal. While the issue was taken up with Koirala earlier also, he is said to be more positive now than before.





THE HIMALAYAN TIMES |

Sunday, May 20, 2007

US Proposal : Instances Of Resettled Cases

[ 2007-5-21 ] By D. Rose
THE Bhutanese refugee issue has been viewed with much importance in the latter days for different reasons. The resettlement proposal of the refugees by the western countries, including America, has been highly acknowledged as it is expected to bring a durable solution to the refugee impasse. The US proposal made public for the first time in Geneva by Ellen Saubrey, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, has created confusion in the refugee camps. Hence, a brief discussion about the US resettlement scheme is needed so that the refugees have some knowledge about it.

Resettled Instances
The US has been resettling 75,000 refugees from different countries annually. It has also maintained a rich and vibrant tradition of offering refuge to those who fear persecution. The Department of State coordinates the admission of refugees and works in concert with other key government agencies - Department of Homeland Security, Justice, Health and Human Services. The US Refugee Admissions Programme is the global leader in this field and offers admission to the largest number of refugees in need of resettlement. The offer of resettlement as a durable solution to refugees is a crucial responsibility in a highly visible policy arena. Third country resettlement certainly benefits the refugees, the host country and the community offering the refuge.

Last year, about 1,500 Vietnamese refugees who had been living in the Philippines were resettled in the US. They were granted all rights as first class citizens of the US. The Bermudian refugees, survivors of the horrific massacre at Gatumba, were also resettled.

The legal basis of the refuge admission programme is the Refugee Act of 1980. The Refugee Admission Department is interested in the Bhutanese and Tibetan refugees, and was discussed in its forth annual public meeting. As this is a legal procedure, the refugees should not sense any suspicions as regards the US resettlement scheme.

In a period of almost two decades, numerous futile attempts have been made to repatriate the refugees. The steps taken by Nepal in this regard were less pragmatic. Since the inception of the issue, Bhutan has been refusing to accept its citizens in exile. Instead of taking back its people, it is preparing to evict another 80,000 Nepali-speaking people from the southern and eastern belt.

Bhutan has taken this US proposal as an opportunity to evict more Lhotsampas or Bhutanese of Nepalese origin living in the southern belt. It is also tacitly preparing to exclude them from participating in the country's first general election to be held in 2008. This indicates that the tin pot dictator is to carry on with its repressive mechanism.

Seeing no other way, Bhutanese leaders in exile have formally announced the second and the last movement against the Druk oligarchy. However, the refugees are still ambivalent about the credibility of the movement. Indian indifference towards the refugees' endeavours shall surely hinder the entrance of the refugees to Bhutan. If the movement fails this time as well, the issue will be even more complicated.

The Druk regime will never accept voluntarily these forcefully evicted people. Accepting them would force Bhutan into a democratic atmosphere, which is dead against the aspirations of the Druk dictator. The Bhutanese case is similar to that of the Palestinians. The Palestinians, who fled Israel in around 1948, are still not accepted. The acceptance of the Palestinians would change Israel from a Jewish state to an Arab state.

There is a saturated level of frustration and a feeling of insecurity among the refugee youths. They talk to each other in trepidation. Majority of the refugees are unemployed and seem to be swayed by the filthy motives of politicians. The refugees have been made hostage in the name of establishing democracy in Bhutan. Warehousing these refugees is a waste of humanity.

This is the right time for the refugees themselves to decide whether to accept or reject the US proposal. It might prove a hard blow to them if they fail to realise what they are waiting for. They must read the complexities surrounding this issue. They have the right to decide and speak what they wish. However, there is a web of deceit and suspiciousness among the refugees that has prevented them from speaking out freely about the option on hand.

Millions of Palestinians, neglected by the international community, are leading pathetic lives in the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordon. Hence, if no grave decision is taken, the condition of the Bhutanese refugees would be similar to that of the Palestinians.

Local integration
The option of local integration also deserves special mention. Nepal should make its stance clear whether it is ready to assimilate the refugees wanting to be locally integrated into the Nepalese society, similar to what Ivory Coast did during the infiltration of the Liberian refugees in 1989. President Felix H. Boigny set an example by accepting Liberian refugees as "brothers in distress".

Any further delay towards solving the refugee deadlock may push the frustration of the refugees to its optimum. This shall invite sprawling problems for Nepal.
(Rose is with Bhutan Press Union)

Bhutan may evict more ethnic Nepalis

By Tilak P. Pokharel

The Kathmandu Post
Publication Date: 19-05-2007


A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday (May 17) said thousands of ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan, who escaped eviction in the 1990s, face "persistent discrimination" and are denied citizenship.

The report said such behavior by the Bhutanese authorities may ultimately force the remaining 81,986 ethnic Nepalis (according to Bhutan's 2005 census) to leave the country.

"While most ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan don't believe that they are currently at imminent risk of being expelled from Bhutan, they fear that without citizenship cards and without NOCs (No Objection Certificates), life in Bhutan will eventually become so difficult it will leave many of them with little choice but to leave the country," said the 86-page report released globally on Thursday.

Ethnic Nepalis have great difficulty obtaining the so-called NOCs, which are a pre-requisite for government employment, access to higher education, obtaining trade and business licenses, travel documents, and buying and selling land.

"Being denied a NOC deprives a person of almost all means of earning a living," said the report. "Not only does Bhutan remain unwilling to accept the vast majority of the Bhutanese refugees (languishing in camps in eastern Nepal), but it also continues to discriminate against the remaining ethnic Nepali population in Bhutan."

Resettlement to the US of many of the refugees could encourage the Bhutanese authorities to coerce more ethnic Nepalis to leave, said the report.

Releasing the report in Kathmandu, Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at HRW, said the Bhutanese authorities are making life for the ethnic Nepalis intolerable, though they may not push them to the border like in the 1990s. "That's the subtle way of ethnic cleansing," he said.

There are about 106,000 refugees, who were evicted from Bhutan in an ethnic cleansing in the early 1990s, languishing in seven UNHCR-run camps in Jhapa and Morang districts.

Furthermore, the report said, the fate of the remaining 46,000 refugees and of an estimated 10,000-15,000 unregistered refugees in Nepal and 15,000-30,000 unregistered refugees in India remains unclear.

Frelick said he could sense the militant activities going on inside the camps, to press for repatriation, not resettlement in a third country.

‘US offer sparks tensions’

The report of the New York-based human rights watchdog also said the United States' offer to resettle 60,000 of these refugees has given hope to them, "but has also heightened tensions in the camps".

"Since the announcement of the US resettlement offer, tensions in the camps have been building," the report added. "Partly, this is because of rumors and misinformation about the nature of the offer itself. It is also due to intimidation by groups militantly opposed to resettlement who insist that the only acceptable solution is return to Bhutan."

Frelick said, for the US resettlement program to be effective, it cannot operate in isolation.

"This requires a three-pronged strategy," he said. "First, resettlement should be a real option for as many refugees as want it… Second, Nepal should grant citizenship to those refugees who express a preference for local integration … and finally, the US, India and other countries should redouble their efforts to persuade Bhutan to allow refugees who want to repatriate to do so."

Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is arriving on May 22 on a two-day visit. Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, is scheduled to visit the Bhutanese refugee camps, besides meeting with Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan and other officials. Sources said that during Guterres' visit the UNHCR is likely to announce the findings of a census conducted in the refugee camps starting in November last year.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bhutanese refugees brace for Indian crackdown

From correspondents in Kathmandu, Nepal, 01:32 PM IST
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Bhutanese refugees, who are planning to start a march to the kingdom from Nepal on the day Thimphu holds a mock election, say they fear Indian authorities may stop them while they enter that country on their way to the Druk kingdom.

At least three organisations of Bhutanese refugees languishing in closed camps in eastern Nepal for 16 years have pledged to take part in the march on May 28, when Bhutan holds the second round of its mock election.

The National Front for Democracy, Druk National Congress (DNC) and Bhutanese Movement will stage a 'voluntary return to homeland' programme on the same day to protest the breakdown of repatriation talks between Nepal and Bhutan and renewed efforts by donor countries to resettle the refugees in third countries.

The protesters said that they fear the Indian authorities will stop them when they try to cross the river between Nepal and India, media reported here.

'India and Bhutan have agreed to ban refugee activities in India, and Bhutan has requested New Delhi to use maximum force (to prevent the refugees from crossing into Bhutan),' Nepal's official media Friday quoted Narad Adhikari, general secretary of DNC's foreign cell, as saying. 'But we will not stop the campaign.'

They have also announced their plan to hold protest meetings on the day in Kathmandu as well as in New Delhi.

The media Friday quoted refugee leaders as saying that officials from India and Bhutan had held meetings in Darjeeling and Phuntsholing towns on April 30 and May 1 respectively to discuss the protest and how to stop it.

Officials of India's Border Security Forces and Bhutanese home ministry reportedly attended the meetings.

The protesters have sent a memorandum to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, asking him to allow them to cross the Mechi bridge that links eastern Nepal with India, from where they plan to head towards Bhutan.

Bhutanese of Nepali origin were forced to leave Bhutan in the 90s after the Druk government issued a new citizenship law and conducted a new population census that cancelled the citizenship of thousands of ethnic Bhutanese.

Nearly 150,000 Bhutanese were forced to flee their homes and go to India across the border. However, Indian authorities took over 80,000 of the fugitives to Nepal where they have been living since then, in seven camps administered by the UN High Commissioner for refugees.

Bhutan refuses to take them back, calling them anti-nationals and terrorists.

While India, which has considerable influence on Bhutan, being its largest donor and trade partner, refuses to mediate, saying it's a bilateral issue between Bhutan and Nepal. It has however prevented the refugees from heading towards Bhutan, a move that is criticised by human rights activists.

Recently, the US said it would offer a home to over 100,000 refugees living in the Nepal camps.

The offer, despite its generosity, has sparked fresh tension in the camps as well as in Bhutan.

People who prefer repatriation to Bhutan fear if the refugees are settled in third countries, the Druk government will feel it can get away with such atrocities and begin a fresh crackdown on ethnic Bhutanese still living in Bhutan.

US offer to Bhutan refugees living in Nepal fuels tension

Web posted at: 5/18/2007 8:27:49
Source ::: REUTERS
KATHMANDU • An offer by the United States to resettle tens of thousands of Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal has raised many hopes but the gesture has also sparked tension in the camps, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

Refugees who insist on repatriation as the only acceptable solution have been threatening and intimidating those who voice support for resettlement in the United States, the New York-based group said in a report.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalis were expelled or fled from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan in 1991, and around 106,000 live in poverty and exile in crowded camps in eastern Nepal, roughly one-sixth of Bhutan’s population.

Last year, Washington offered to take 60,000 refugees from the camps in a move that has divided the exiled population.

“Refugees fundamentally have the right to return to a country that expelled them,” said Bill Frelick, the group’s refugee policy director. “But all refugees also have the right to make essential choices about their lives without threats and intimidation.”

The expulsions of the ethnic Nepalis followed protests in southern Bhutan in favour of democracy and human rights, and over discrimination against their Hindu religion, culture and language.

The government of mainly Buddhist Bhutan says most of those who left were illegal immigrants, and that they have been joined in the camps by opportunists from elsewhere falsely claiming to have come from Bhutan, while many others left the country voluntarily. It has yet to take back a single refugee, despite several rounds of meetings with the government of Nepal.

Human Rights Watch rejects those arguments, saying most of the camp population was expelled forcefully from Bhutan on the basis of ethnicity.

It added that there was continuing discrimination against ethnic Nepalis still living in Bhutan, who live in fear of being stripped of their citizenship and expelled from the country.

“While repatriation would be the best option for most refugees, it can only be viable if Bhutan upholds its duty to guarantee the returnees’ human rights,” Frelick said.

Bhutan’s government also says it fears being swamped by a growing population of illegal immigrants, mindful of the way ethnic Nepalis helped overthrow the Buddhist rulers of neighbouring Sikkim, annexed by India in 1975.

But Frelick said the US offer of resettlement offered a solution to the deadlock, so Bhutan could take back those who still wanted to return without needing to fear being swamped.

“It is in no one’s interest to have permanent refugee camps,” he told Reuters. “It is very much in Bhutan’s interest to embrace this as an opportunity, and to respond in a positive way.”

In a report, “Last Hope: The Need for Durable Solutions for Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal and India”, the group said Nepal should grant citizenship to refugees who prefer local integration to resettlement or repatriation.