The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

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)

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