Politics and Bhutan's Refugees
Purushottam Subedi (purudai)
The American offer to resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees currently living in Nepal is a debatable issue. It is seen as a political step to make it easy to conduct the first national election in 2008 in Bhutan. Refugee leaders say that it is an effort to reduce the voice against the Bhutanese regime.In December, Bhutanese King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced that Bhutan will hold its first national elections to establish a parliamentary democracy in 2008 and that he will hand over power to his son, Crown Prince Dasho Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. But the election declared by the Buddhist ruler will exclude about 110,000(*) Bhutanese Hindu Refugees who were kicked out of Bhutan in 1991 and are living in Nepal.
For 16 years, the refugees have been demanding to return home. When they were exiled from Bhutan, India dropped them in Nepal. Since then India has been saying that it is a bilateral issue between Bhutan and Nepal while Nepal and Bhutanese refugees have asked for India's help to return them to Bhutan. But with the American's taking the refugees in, India has said that it is an international problem. The refugee's leaders said that the change in India's stance is to make way for them to resettle them in third countries. They charge that America wants to make India happy.According to the refugee's leaders, India never wanted to return them to Bhutan. Last month India said that if all the refugees returned to Bhutan it would disturb its population. But veteran Bhutanese leader Teknath Rijal said that was nonsense.Outgoing American ambassador to Nepal James F. Moriarty has said that the offer was based on humanitarian concern for the well-being of the Bhutanese refugees not for political reasons.The Nepalese government discussed the issue in 15 rounds of talks with the Bhutanese government, but without success. Nepal has not been able to clear the path for any refugees to return to Bhutan. The Bhutanese government 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.A recent report by South Asians for Human Rights, led by former Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gajurel, claims that Bhutanese refugees are victims of political apathy on the part of the Bhutanese government led by the king, who doesn't consider them Bhutanese nationals, and has already redistributed their land to new owners and is not interested in ensuring their repatriation.The refugee's leaders say Bhutan is as tyranny and that America and India are supporting it.Just this month Bhutan put 37 families in jail, said Rijal. To silence a voice against this kind of activity America wants to take in refugees. This will create a new environment in which Bhutan can exercise its tyranny.Meanwhile, the process of resettling Bhutanese refugees in third countries is going ahead. An outfit called the Bhutan Tigers Force (BTF), said to be active underground in Bhutan, has warned the refugees against going for that option.It is said that Bhutanese foreign policy is guided by India. Critics say that its aim has been to continue the India's monopoly on Bhutanese water resources and its relationship with the king.