[ 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.
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.
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)