18 May, 2007 l 0323 hrs ISTlTIMES NEWS NETWORK
KATHMANDU: While Washington's offer of resettlement has given the first ray of hope to Bhutanese refugees living like prisoners in camps in Nepal for 16 long years, it has also fuelled an insidious fear among over 80,000 ethnic Bhutanese in the kingdom, who apprehend it will be their turn to be forcibly evicted once the resettlement process begins.
Bhutanese of Nepali origin have been burdened with more misgivings since April 2006, when the Population and Census Commission made public the result of the 2005 census, fixing the population at 634,972. The catch is, the commission says it includes both bona fide citizens and "foreigners".
The number of such "foreigners" has been calculated to be almost 80,000. Interestingly, nearly 70,000 have been prevented from taking part in the mock election.
The fear has spread to the seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal, where the victims of the 1991 persecution have been living under the supervision of the UN High Commission for Refugees for nearly two decades.
On Wednesday, yellow pamphlets began to appear in the Beldangi camp, urging the refugees to ready for an armed struggle to restore democracy in Bhutan.
Though the refugees remain tightlipped, the source of fear is said to be the rising militant groups of young people: the Bhutan Communist Party- Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, Bhutan Tigers and War and Peace Group.
The last sent a signed threat note to two camp secretaries who were explaining to residents the implication of the US offer. However, the militants, five out of six Bhutan parties operating from India and Nepal are opposed to third-country resettlement.
"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," said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch. "People feel insecure," young man in the camp said.