The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Friday, November 30, 2007

Bhutan refugees speak through art

Charles Haviland BBC News, Kathmandu

The exhibition allows the young people to share their experiences
Young people from the Bhutanese refugee population in Nepal have staged an exhibition in Kathmandu to demonstrate their art and photography skills and highlight their difficulties.
Basudev Osti, Rinchin Tamang and Rebika Bhandari, all aged 17, have grown up in the seven camps that are home to more than 100,000 refugees in south-east Nepal.
They have no memories of Bhutan, as their families came here around 1990 after the Bhutanese government stripped them of their citizenship or forced them out because of their protests against new nationalistic regulations.

The refugees are almost entirely Nepali-speakers who lived in the south of the reclusive Buddhist kingdom.
Bhutan has not admitted a single one back.
Gopal Rai, 22, does remember a little of Bhutan. "There are images in front of me," he told the BBC.
"Rivers near our house. The homes of my relatives. Sceneries, our own fields and properties. It was nice and I don't want to forget it."
Sensitive issues
Their present or recent involvement in the Bhutanese Refugee Children Forum (BRCF), a group run by people under 18 for the benefit of all 37,000 refugee children, has given them strength amid the general desperation of refugee life.

The Forum has taught young people new artistic skills
The most striking exhibits are the young people's oil paintings, a skill they have learnt through the Forum.
A four-panelled picture by one young teenager starkly depicts various violent incidents in the refugees' lives.
There is a recent clash between refugees and the Nepal Army, and a conflict between camp-dwellers and local people which erupted when refugees tried to collect firewood.
There is also a standoff with the Indian army who prevented refugees from entering India in a bid to return to Bhutan - and a picture of some boarding a plane to emigrate to Canada, which has been crossed out, indicating that this refugee child will only be satisfied with a return to Bhutan.

That whole issue is highly sensitive.
A small number of the refugees wanting to return to Bhutan have been threatening or using violence on people considering moving to a new country.
Tensions are rising as the United States is poised to admit 60,000 who choose to go there.
The young people I met said they did not have a view on the possibility of settling in new countries and it was up to their guardians to decide.
'Close and crowded'
In another picture a dragon - the symbol of Bhutan - envelops a map of the country which is bleeding; refugees are depicted fleeing and a figure representing "Mother Bhutan" weeps.

The exhibitors have lived in the camps for most of their lives
Another large picture simply depicts the condition of the camps, which stand in teak forests - "close and crowded", as artist Amit Subba puts it.
Rice from the World Food Programme is unloaded; food is cooked via solar panels which do not function on dull days; kerosene rationed at just one litre per family per month is distributed.
There are also some striking photographs, and handicrafts for which the refugees are seeking sales outlets.
"Legally we can't sell them in the local market - but we do sell things, bending the law," says BRCF programme coordinator Indra Timsina.
And there is a film, shot by the young people, which doesn't shy away from politics.
It reconstructs incidents the young people have heard about from their parents including Bhutanese army victimisation of Nepali-speaking families.
Harsh conditions

I'm sure my future will be bright - if I go back to Bhutan. If I stay here I don't think it will be bright
Gopal Rai, second left
The young people told the BBC about their lives.
Basudev Osti described camp life as "very miserable. I cannot meet my aim - rules and regulations obstruct us."
Three members of his family do unofficial teaching work, each earning 900 rupees ($13) per month.
His mother is very sick, and he gives tuition to children to help subsidise his studies in a school outside the camp.
Rebika Bhandari says her father was jailed in Bhutan for giving support to the southern Bhutanese campaign against the authorities.
She says camp life is "too difficult" but that her life has been transformed by the Children Forum, which has trained her in photography, acting and music.
Now she does voluntary work in schools.
Since getting to Nepal, Gopal Rai's family life has been difficult. Three of his siblings have died, his widowed mother has married twice more and his uncles have been his guardians.
But he echoes praise for the Forum, which has taught him skills in acting and sports. Others have had journalism training.

"I'm sure my future will be bright - if I go back to Bhutan," he says. "If I stay here I don't think it will be bright."
The overriding message from the young refugees was that they wanted the international community to support and listen to them.
In the words of one message posted on the wall: "Will the time come for refugees to call a place 'my home' instead of 'my hut'? If so, when?"

Friday, November 16, 2007

An appeal : Anand Swaroop Verma

It is matter of shame for all of us that while the neighboring country Bhutan is continuing with the autocratic monarchy and its repressive activities with the help of world’s largest democracy India, the intelligentsia in our country has maintained silence over the issue whereas the Indian media, time and again, keeps on praising the monarchy in Bhutan. We are repeatedly told by the media that the tiny populace in Bhutan is prospering, the country is unaffected by the environmental degradation and cultural pollution and so on. During the last couple of years, Indian media is full of news praising the King for his liberal attitude by arguing that he himself wants to end the monarchy to usher in the democratic system of governance. The media keeps on telling us that the King of Bhutan wants to join the modern world because he feels that continuing with monarchy in the present scenario is suggestive of a regressive thought.
The same media never told us sternly that this ‘peaceful and environment friendly’ King, in 1990 with the help of his army, had expelled 1.5 lakh citizens of his country, run bulldozer over their hamlets, destroyed their orange and cardamom plantations and unleashed a reign of terror and oppression on elders, women and children just because they were asking for the establishment of minimum democracy and respect for their human rights. Media never bothered to tell us that in the drama that is being enacted in the name of the countrywide elections scheduled for February 2008, neither political parties banned for last 20 years and termed illegal (Bhutan People’s Party, Bhutan National Democratic Party, Druk National Congress) nor the people living in seven refugee camps run by UNHCR inside Nepal’s border for last 17 years have been permitted to participate. The total population of Bhutan is around seven lakhs and expelling 1.5 lakh people out of this tiny population has been an incident never witnessed in the history of any country. The most surprising thing is that India is the only country in the subcontinent extending support to the King of Bhutan. He was even invited by the Indian government as chief guest in Republic Day parade two years back.
India has contributed significantly towards the plight of Bhutanese refugees. These refugees had brought out some pamphlets and organized peaceful demonstration demanding a minimum democracy in 1990. The centre of this movement was southern part of Bhutan which is close to the Indian border, particularly the West Bengal border. Although the King of Bhutan had imposed ban on the entry of television in his country, but how could this neighboring region of West Bengal could remain uninfluenced by the movement related activities which are the very soul of life in West Bengal. People from South Bhutan came to India for educational purposes and they had to pass through West Bengal. Apart from that, due to lack of connecting roads in mountainous Bhutan, people had to take the road which passes through West Bengal in order to reach the other parts of Bhutan. Since southern part of Bhutan was primarily inhabited by Lhotsompas, a Nepali speaking Bhutanese community which constituted 90 percent of the Southern Bhutanese population, the King charged them with creating disturbance. When the people of Sarchop community from east and north Bhutan were also expelled, it became clear in the long run that this movement was not confined to the Nepali speaking community alone.
Teknath Rizal, advisor to the Royal Council set up by the King wrote a letter to the King requesting that he must humbly pay heed to the people’s complaints. But instead, the King put Teknath Rizal behind the bars. He was forced to suffer unbearable pains for 10 long years. He was released in 1999 when the King’s officials realized that he could die in prison due to illness. He is now living an exiled life in Nepal and leading the anti-monarchy struggle. Rizal hails from Lhotsompa community.
On the same lines, the popular leader of Sarchop community Rongthong Kunley Dorji was arrested by the monarchy and charged with supporting the demand of minimum democracy. The King seized his property, put him in the jail where he was subjected to severe atrocities and was finally kicked out of the country along with his family. He was arrested by the Indian police on his arrival to India in 1996 and was put in Tihar prison for two years. He is currently on bail and the Indian government has imposed various restrictions on him. He is also leading the anti-monarchy struggles. He is the president of Druk National Congress. India has always given refuge to the pro-democracy activists of various countries including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Burma, Tibet and Nepal. Keeping this in mind, India’s discriminatory attitude towards pro-democracy forces in Bhutan is surprising.
India’s role in this regard is both shameful and significant because when the helpless Bhutanese citizens arrived inside the Indian border after being expelled from their own country, Indian security forces forcefully loaded them in trucks as if they were livestocks and dumped inside Nepal border. Those who resisted were beaten up severely. With no choice left they stayed in Nepal. Later on India laid its hands off from the issue. Whenever Government of India was requested to hold talks over the Bhutanese refugees issue, it raised its hands by saying that this was a bilateral issue between Nepal and Bhutan. Bhutan shares border with India, not Nepal. Any one who leaves Bhutan will obviously enter India first. It is a known fact that India has itself created this problem for Nepal. Nepal being a small and weaker state cannot force India, which has repeatedly ignored its request to resolve the refugee crisis.
In the last 17 years, whenever the Bhutanese refugees tried to return home risking their lives, they were stopped at Indo-Nepal border at Mechi bridge by the Indian security forces. When they tried to proceed further, they were beaten up. The most recent incident in this series is that of May 28, 2007 when one refugee was killed in police firing and hundreds of them were injured.
I had organized a conference on the Bhutanese refugee issue in 1991 along with friends from Nepal and India. At that time, a booklet entitled ‘Human Rights in Bhutan’ was also published. Many distinguished people including Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Justice Ajit Singh Bains and Swami Agnivesh participated. In order to create a mass consensus on the issue, an organization named ‘Bhutan Solidarity’ was formed towards the end of the conference and Justice Krishna Iyer was made its patron. I was asked to take the responsibility of convener. A study team from this organization in 1995 prepared a detailed report after a tour to the refugee camps. I tried my level best to contribute in resolving the issue till May 2006 in this capacity. From June 2006 onwards, MLA from MP and young farmer leader Dr. Sunilam is holding the position of convener.
As per UNHCR, the total number of refugees in the camps of Nepal is One lakh six thousand. The survey carried out by Bhutan Solidarity in 1996 revealed that more than 40,000 refugees are living in India (West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) and they have not been given the status of refugee by UNHCR. As per 1950 Friendship Treaty between India and Bhutan, government of India refused to give these people refugee status. They too are living in worst conditions.
A team from ‘Bhutan Solidarity’ visited the refugee camps again in August 2006 and found that 40 percent of the refugees were in the age group of 17-40. They are losing patience after the failure of many peaceful attempts to go back home and feeling that this problem can not be resolved through peaceful means. They have also been inspired by the Maoist people’s war in Nepal and this thought is getting concretized in their minds that justice will only prevail through the barrel of the gun. In spite of being aware of everything, Bhutan government and government of India have maintained an indifferent attitude. It seems as if both the governments are waiting for the refugees to take the violent path which will give them an excuse to unleash repression.
I feel that the Bhutanese refugee crisis can be resolved in a peaceful way provided the intellectuals of India raise their voice and stand behind them in solidarity with their struggle. The area which relates with these refugees is politically very sensitive. Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Jhapa, close to West Bengal, have been experiencing violent movements since long but the arms here are not in the hands of revolutionary forces, but in the hands of separatists, anarchists and state sponsored armed groups. In this scenario, if the Bhutanese refugees take to armed struggle, their voice will be lost and it will pave the way for their repression. In nutshell armed struggle waged by the Bhutanese refugees to solve their problem will prove to be suicidal at this stage.
Monarchy in Bhutan is at the weakest stage. As I said earlier, it is supported only by India. It has somehow sustained itself by giving offerings to the high officials of Ministry of External Affairs and a crop of selected journalists. This is the reason why every Foreign Minister- be it I.K. Gujral, Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh or Pranab Mukherjee- has ‘off the record’ given same argument that the Indian support to Bhutan is only due to India’s ‘geo-political compulsions’.
In the last couple of years, US policy has been a fiasco in Nepal. Despite US disliking, the political parties of Nepal and Maoists reached a 12 point understanding in Nov 2005, signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Maoists entered the parliament and they even joined the interim government. Inspite of all this, Maoists are still listed as ‘terrorist’ in the US records. Having seen utter failure of its policy in Nepal, US has now shifted its focus on Bhutan since it wants to consolidate its position in South Asia by hook or crook. US had announced last year that it will undertake to settle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees on its own and assist to settle 10,000 each in Australia and Canada. This announcement revealed many things. Firstly, it tried to create a divide among the refugees. Secondly, it tried to prevent the ideology of violence taking an organized form among them and lastly, assured the King of Bhutan that it will help him get rid of the mounting problem of refugees. This is what US aims at. While this proposal seems to be providing some relief to the King at the same time the debate on this proposal has for the first time in 17 years generated violent conflicts among the refugees. It is interesting to know that hardly 10 percent refugees are in favor of US proposal. One more incident is noteworthy. King of Bhutan Jigme Singhe Wangchuk had announced to abdicate the throne voluntarily in 2008 in favor of his son Prince Khesar Singhe Wangchuk. But suddenly US came in picture and through its efforts got the process completed much earlier, that is in May 2007 itself. Prince Khesar is now the King of Bhutan and US has full faith in him.
The objective of writing this letter is to inform you about the plight of Bhutanese refugees and government of India’s position in this regard as well as to appeal you to give a serious thought on the possible ways to resolve the problem. This problem can surely be resolved peacefully and a terrible bloodshed can be avoided in this region if the intellectuals, human rights activists and active pro-democracy people of Indian political parties think seriously over this issue. If our endeavour fails to bring change the government of India’s attitude of indifference, then the movement of Bhutanese refugees taking a violent turn can not be termed as illegitimate. But I have strong feeling that even a small effort on our part can bring a peaceful solution to the problem.
Your suggestions on this issue are invited so that we can sit together in the near future and find out a way in the coming days.

Anand Swaroop VermaQ-63, Sector-12, Noida – 201301Phone: 0120-4356504, 9810720714email:

Bhutan refugees are 'intimidated'

By Subir Bhaumik BBC News, Calcutta

Ms Ellen has just visited Nepal and BhutanBhutanese refugees living in Nepal are facing "severe intimidation" ever since plans to resettle them in the West were announced, a senior US official says.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, Ellen Sauerbrey, says the refugee leaders in the camps are to blame.
Nepal is home to about 107,000 ethnic Nepalese expelled from Bhutan, which says they are illegal immigrants.
The US has said it will take 60,000 refugees, but says it can take more.
"There is no question that severe intimidation began in the camps when the US made the offer of resettlement," Ms Sauerbrey told the BBC.
She was stopping over in the city of Calcutta on way to Delhi after a tour of Nepal and Bhutan.
Ms Sauerbrey blamed the refugee leaders in the camps in Nepal for the "intimidation".
"For those who have spent 17 years trying to develop a programme to return to Bhutan, the idea that a large number of the refugees will come to the US reduces their political power," she said.
"The refugees have also been fed on false rumours consistently."
Leaders of these Bhutanese refugees have been trying to organise them for a long march back home through India.
But Delhi - which has very friendly relations with Thimphu - has deployed border guards and police to foil these marches.

The refugees have been living in Nepal since the 1990s
Ms Sauerbrey says the government of Nepal must provide "adequate security" in the refugee camps, so that the UNHCR can provide resettlement information to the refugees and enlist those who voluntarily come forward to accept the offer.
"If there's enough security in the camps, I am confident most of these refugees would take up the offer of resettlement in the US," Ms Sauerbrey said.
She said the US was interested in resettling 60,000 of the refugees over five years, but there was no limit and no quota to the US offer.
"If more than 60,000 people are interested in being resettled and are referred to our programme by UNHCR, we will take those who qualify.
"Most will qualify unless someone has a record of violence in the camp," she said.
"We do not take these people because they are highly skilled or educated, we will take them for humanitarian considerations."
Ms Sauerbrey, who visited Kathmandu and the refugee camps in eastern Nepal before travelling to Bhutan, said the process was formally launched after Nepalese officials went to the camps with her delegation and announced publicly the Nepalese government's support of the resettlement programmes.
She said 3,000 refugees have already applied informally for resettlement in the US.
"Our goal this year is to interview about 15,000 and, in the next few years, we are expecting 20,000 to 25,000 per year, based on the interest generated amongst the refugees ," she added.

Bhutan says the refugees in Nepal are illegal immigrants
Ms Sauerbrey said the US government was keen to resolve the protracted refugee situation on humanitarian grounds.
"If you have been to refugee camps, they are not nice places and these people have been in the camps for 17 years. That is a long, long time," she said.
Ms Sauerbrey said the resettlement could resolve a major part of the problem but there were people in the camps who were genuinely Bhutanese citizens and would very much like to come home.
"The US and many other international communities do believe that Bhutan has a moral obligation with people who are genuinely Bhutanese citizens, to let them come home," she said.
Tens of thousand of Bhutanese of Nepali origin started fleeing the kingdom in the 1990s, complaining of persecution by the royal administration.
They found refuge in the camps in eastern Nepal, run by the UNHCR.
Several rounds of talks between Nepal and Bhutan have failed to resolve the issue.
But as Bhutan heads for its first national elections next year, the refugee leaders are pressing for the return of their people to the kingdom so that they can vote and regain their citizenship .

Lost in no-man's-land

For two decades they have been ignored by the world: 100,000 people ethnically cleansed from the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Now, as diplomacy founders and militants fan the flames of insurgency, it's the refugees who are once again caught in the crossfire.
ON A sandbank in the middle of the river, Bubbha Lapha shelters from the baking sun under a battered tartan umbrella. The 70-year-old squats down, lifts a small rock hammer and brings it down to smash a pebble into fragments. She gathers the pieces of broken stone and throws them on to a pile the size of a small cairn. It's close to midday and Bubbha and her friends, Shati and Kanti, have already been working for six hours. "Clack... clack... clack..." Like convicts in a chain gang, the trio raise their hammers then smash them down to break stones, over and over again.
"Clack... clack... clack..." The chipping noise of metal on stone drifts away from the women, almost drowned out by the rush of the River Ratwa that runs past them. Bubbha says something in Nepalese to Kanti, 40, and Shati, 65, who giggle like a couple of schoolgirls.
For a lifetime these three women have laughed, cried and survived in each other's company. It's been a precarious existence, not least as forgotten victims of one of the world's most intractable refugee situations. They are among 106,000 Bhutanese refugees who have languished in the forests of eastern Nepal for the past 17 years after being 'ethnically cleansed' from the remote kingdom of Bhutan. Ignored by the world and completely reliant on international aid for food and shelter, the refugees have waited and waited, and slowly lost hope. Until now, that is - thanks to a compassionate offer from the United States to resettle 60,000 of them, as well as provisional interest from Australia, Canada and Norway to accept smaller numbers of refugees.
But while help has finally been offered by the international community, the injection of fresh hope has caused uproar in the camps and sparked discord among the Bhutanese. While many long to be resettled and begin a new life, others insist that repatriation to Bhutan should be the only option considered. They fear that anything less will endanger the status of 80,000 of their people still in southern Bhutan and legitimise the regime's policy of ethnic cleansing.
Many of the young people, frustrated and angry at the world's ignorance of their plight, have turned to the Communist Party of Bhutan, which is urging refugees to fight for their right to return and to ultimately overthrow the Bhutanese monarchy.
Violence erupted in May when thousands of refugees tried to cross into the Indian state of West Bengal and march back to Bhutan. One man was killed and more than 20 were injured when Indian police opened fire as they tried to cross the border. There was also chaos inside the camps as supporters of the third-country settlement plan were attacked. Two people died when armed Nepalese police were called to restore order.
With the process of resettlement to the US about to begin in earnest, coupled with fears of a Maoist insurgency in the camps and the beginnings of a wider armed struggle, the crisis has reached boiling point.
"Clack... clack... clack..." Bubbha, Shati and Kanti look weary. For 17 years they have survived against the odds, but now life may become even tougher. Bubbha raises her arm and wipes the sweat from her brow. "This is no way to live," the old woman says.
THE TINY KINGDOM of Bhutan, sandwiched between India, China and Chinese-controlled Tibet, is one of the most isolated and least developed nations in the world. Known locally as Druk Yul, or Land of the Thunder Dragon, it is landlocked in the Himalayan mountains, a diverse landscape of subtropical plains in the south, stretching up to 7,000m-high peaks in the north. Mahayan Buddhism is the state religion and foreign influences and tourism are strictly rationed to preserve the country's traditional culture and identity. The government answers to 27-year-old King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the world's youngest head of state and the fifth Dragon King of Bhutan, who wields absolute power.
The population of Bhutan is 750,000, including the 135,000 refugees in Nepal and India, and consists of three main ethnic, religious and linguistic groups, the Ngalongs, the Sarchops and the Nepalese-speaking Lhotshampas in the south.
After war with British-India in 1864, Bhutan lost about a third of its fertile territory in the south, so for economic reasons migration was encouraged from Nepal to the country's southern foothills. A steady increase in settlements of the Nepalese resulted in a separate administration for the south, leaving the population cut off from the mainstream of Bhutanese society.
But during the 1980s, the Dzongkha-speaking Ngalongs who rule Bhutan began to fear the growing influence of the Nepali-speaking Hindus in the south. The government tightened citizenship laws and combined new legislation with arrests, torture and threats to force more than 100,000 ethnic Nepali Bhutanese citizens from their land. It was a dark period and the country was strongly criticised at the time for human-rights abuses by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Two decades on and 17 rounds of negotiations between the governments of Bhutan (which refuses to take the refugees back) and Nepal (which refuses to integrate them) have come to nothing. India, the largest power in the region, has close ties with Bhutan and won't support repatriation, while other political players such as the US have declined to interfere. Hence, the despair of prolonged statelessness has continued.
"Shanti, Kanti and I escaped to Nepal together from our village of Dahding in 1992, after some of the women were raped by soldiers. We left in the middle of the night and walked for three days. We ended up in the camps, and we've been here ever since," Bubbha says.
A RECENT REPORT BY Human Rights Watch documented the deteriorating conditions inside the seven camps that are home to the 106,000 refugees. Frustration is beginning to manifest itself in ugly forms, with domestic violence on the rise, women turning to prostitution to feed their children, and increased political agitation with the potential to create an armed uprising. HRW's report also gave a rare glimpse into the continuing abuses of human rights in Bhutan itself, where Nepalese-speaking citizens cannot get a government job, buy or sell land, or open a business without a police-issued card attesting that the bearer is not 'anti-national'.
For the thousands of young refugees who were born in the camps, their 'homeland', Bhutan, is just a pipe dream, and a place they know only through stories passed down by their elders. The camps are close to the dusty frontier town of Damak in eastern Nepal, about 500 miles from the capital Kathmandu. It's a subtropical land of paddy fields and bamboo, dotted with coconut trees, buffalo cooling off in pools of water and colourful Hindu temples.
The camps are clean and well organised, with schools for the children and narrow rows of bamboo huts for the refugees to live in. But the people are not permitted to work anywhere in Nepal, so there is a real sense of despair among the older refugee population who have spent the best part of 20 years sitting doing nothing. Bubbha, Shanti and Kanti are working illegally breaking stones for the construction industry and, if caught, face losing their weekly ration of rice and lentils. There is a black market for goods but most people here have little to do.
In Beldang 1 camp, 55-year-old Kalibahadur Darjee invites us into his hut. He has bloodshot eyes and looks drawn and ill. "I lived in Nauli village in the Samdung Khar district of Bhutan but left in 1993," he says. "The army came and attacked the men and raped the women, so we had no choice but to go."
Darjee used to be a tailor and on a table sits a sewing machine he uses to mend clothes. Most people have nothing more than one shirt and pair of trousers, as only food is provided by the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the Lutheran World Federation who run the camps. Rations, paid for by international donors, are distributed every 12 days. Each person receives 5.6kg of rice, 0.56kg of lentils and 0.28kg of chickpeas, with a choice of pumpkin, cabbage or banana once a week.
A few huts up from Darjee is Bhagirath Sapkdta, who came from the same village as his neighbour. The thin 70-year-old lives here with his wife, Tulasa, and five members of their family. The food rations, they say, are not enough.
Do they want to return to Bhutan or move to a new life in America? They give the same reply as Darjee: they want to return to their homeland. In fact, for the next few hours as we tour the camps, every refugee we meet dismisses the notion of a move to the States. Every single person says they want to return to Bhutan.
At a secondary school in Beldang 2 camp, I put the same question to a class of 30 teenagers, most of whom were born in the camps, none of whom could have any first-hand knowledge of Bhutan. "Who would like to move to America?" Silence. Not one hand goes up and eyes dart nervously from side to side. When I ask who would like repatriation, arms shoot up en masse and heads turn quickly to look around.
Outside, I ask camp secretary Dev Raj Pradhana why no one wants to move to the US. "Many people do," he replies. "They're just too scared to say so."
"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 delivered to Manoyath Khanal. He sits, hunched and swollen-faced, in a dimly lit room with his wife, parents and two children. He left hospital the day before and complains of headaches and severe pain in his ribs.
The family are in hiding in a safe house in Damak, after fleeing Beldang 3 refugee camp two weeks ago. As camp secretary of Beldang 3, a position Khanal was elected to by his fellow refugees, he publicly backed the option of resettlement to a third country. It was a decision that nearly cost him his life. On August 12, a mob beat him unconscious, then destroyed the family hut.
"We are desperate for a solution and 80% of the refugees favour resettlement," he says. "We are not against repatriation but we think that all options should be considered. People should have the right to choose and not be bullied. But the radicals, the Maoists, attack anyone who supports moving to the US."
Khanal blames the violence on radicals from the Communist Party of Bhutan and the Bhutan Tigers. He says these extremist groups have been active in the camps since 2003, supported ideologically by Nepal's own Maoists - the surrounding district is said to be a hotbed of communist activity.
The next morning we see him again, this time at a meeting of the Durable Solution Support Group at a secret location in Damak. This group advocates resettlement but the 16 members have been forced from the camps because of their views. They live on charity and have no access to rations. It is a desperate situation. "Our children have no food. We are refugees twice over now," Khanal says.
He hands me a list with the names of six men. Five are in police custody charged with his attack. He points to the name at the top, Subash Acharya, a man he claims to be linked with the Maoists and responsible for the violence.
The sixth name is Tek Nath Rizal, a legendary figure in Bhutan. Rizal is the exiled Bhutanese leader now based in Kathmandu. He was an advisor to the King of Bhutan before falling out of favour and being imprisoned at the start of the troubles. Rizal gained almost mythic status while in prison and became the de facto spokesman for the Bhutanese movement when he was released a decade later in 1999. "Acharya organises the violence in the camps, but Rizal is behind everything," Khanal claims.
AFTERWARDS we drive to Damak police station and ask to speak to Acharya. The prisoner is brought up from the cells. I put Khanal's allegations to him but Acharya, a former refugee camp secretary himself, denies having anything to do with recent violence, or being linked to any insurgents. "I was out of the camp the day Khanal was attacked and afterwards I made a call for peace," he says.
On the issue of resettlement, Acharya says he favours repatriation and that "all the refugees" wish to return to Bhutan. "The people in favour of moving to a third country should go. But what will their lives be like? We ask that the international community pressurise the Bhutanese government in allowing us to return. Only then should other options be considered," he says.
Finally, I ask about his relationship with Rizal. "I know him very well. I was his personal assistant for a year," he says.
WE MET Tek Nath Rizal in Kathmandu. A slim, thoughtful man, born in southern Bhutan, he was an advisor to the king until the regime began its systematic persecution of his people in 1989. He fled to Nepal and petitioned the King, asking him to stop discriminating against his people. But after nine months, Rizal was abducted and taken back to Bhutan, where he was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason. He was released in 1999 after pressure from the international community.
"I was tortured in prison," he says. "My mother had boiling water thrown on her face and was told to leave her village. My brother-in-law was killed. In jail, I knew of a monk who was murdered and at least four other prisoners who were tortured to death."
Rizal says he represents not only the refugees, but also the movement for democracy in Bhutan. Until recently, he advocated repatriation as the only solution, despite there being next to no chance of this happening anytime soon. But his stance seems to have softened and he stresses he is not opposed to resettlement. "People should be allowed back to their own soil then given the option of resettlement," he says. "If we opt for resettlement first, what will happen to the thousands of our people still in Bhutan? Many refugees have family there and friends and relatives in jail."
Is he behind the violence? He strongly denies this, adding that claims of a Maoist insurgency are a smear by the Bhutanese government who want to label his people terrorists. "We have always followed peaceful means. We would not support violence... but other groups might take up arms," he says.
Does he completely and utterly renounce violence as an option? "We cannot rule out violence," Rizal replies.
NO ONE knows how many refugees want to move to the US or how many want to return to Bhutan. All that is clear is that people have died recently and that violence is likely to erupt again when the resettlement process begins. Abraham Abraham, the UN's High Commissioner in Kathmandu, says there are serious concerns about militants operating in the camps who are determined to start an armed struggle. "Idleness has led to extremism," he says.
The UN is in the process of building permanent police posts in the camps for the first time. The plan is to have new barracks in the seven camps by the end of this month, each with 30 armed officers. "Only when this is all in place will the UN begin the resettlement process," Abraham says.
"SOME people want to go to Bhutan, some want to go to the US, but everyone is fed up. I'd like to go to America," Bubbha says quietly, when we are alone.
"Clack... clack... clack." The women raise their arms to smash stones. They are not interested in politics. All they want is a normal life.
"Clack... clack... clack." It's like a clock endlessly ticking away the days of a life sentence for the Bhutanese.
How can scotland help?
SCOTLAND has a strong record of welcoming refugees from conflicts around the world, but the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) wants more local authorities to take part in its Gateway Programme. It cares for more than 33 million people worldwide, and every year resettles refugees to 20 countries, including Australia, Canada, the USA and the UK.
The UK's Gateway programme, under which 500 vulnerable refugees and their families identified by UNHCR are aimed to be resettled each year, was founded in 2004. Sheffield and Bolton were the first to accept refugees, followed by Brighton, Rochdale, Hull, Norwich and Bury. Earlier this year, North Lanarkshire became the first Scottish local authority to participate, when 20 families who'd fled the Democratic Republic of Congo were resettled in Motherwell.
"Even once they cross a border, some refugees are still not safe," says Peter Kessler, UNHCR's senior external affairs officer. "For those who can neither return home or integrate locally, 'resettlement' to a third country can help them restart their lives in safety. To date, nearly 900 people have found safety in the UK under the Gateway Protection Programme thanks to the generosity of local communities. Scottish local authorities and the public are asked to approach the Home Office to seek more information about joining the Gateway programme."

If you would like to help people fleeing persecution and war, visit For more information about the UN Refugee Agency's humanitarian mission, contact
This article:
Last updated: 04-Nov-07 00:14 GMT

Kids crush stone for learning materials

[ 2007-11-2 ]
By Our CorrespondentJHAPA, Nov. 1: Devika Magar, 11, and Rabilal Dahal, 10, of Bhutanese refugee camp in Beldagi reach at nearby Ratuwa river bank in the morning and start crushing stones. The minors are the students of standard four and two respectively at local Green Valley English School at sector two of the camp. �We have been working here to earn some money for stationary materials. We work for about six hours before and after school," they said. They added that they have been earning from Rs. 30 to 60 everyday, and their income depends on the quantity of pebbles they crush at the riverbank. �There are many other students like us," said the innocent kids. The pebble is measured in a tin and they get Rs. 30 for a tin. Besides, there are other kids who dig out sands and make heaps for the contractors. Most of the children working at the river bank are minors under 14 but they are compelled to do manual labor as the allowances being provided to the refugees is not enough to fulfil their demands. �Not only the children like us but our parents also work in the fields outside the camps," they said. Caritas Nepal with the support of UNHCR has been supporting the school going children in the refugee camps and the organisations have been providing financial support for school fees and books. �But the support does not cover the expenses for dress and other stationary materialsShowing the boils on their palms, they said that how long they have to stay in the refugee camps.

Plans for democracy exclude Hindus

Tuesday, September 25,2007
THIMPHU: It's democracy for some as Bhutan refuses to allow more than 100,000 Bhutanese Hindu refugees to return home. While the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has been winning strokes across the world for its abdicating king's voluntary decision to bequeath democracy to his subjects, the dark side is the 100,000 Bhutanese refugees, in neighboring Nepal who were kicked out of Bhutan in 1991. The refugees are Nepali-speaking Bhutanese who were driven out after they protested the passage of a law in the 1980s that arbitrarily cancelled their citizenship. As many as a sixth of the Bhutanese population, most of them living in the south of the country, fled Bhutan in 1990. They have been living in refugee camps in Nepal since that time, seeking to get back home.Bhutan, also known as Druk Yul or the Dragon Kingdom, is surrounded by Nepal, India and Tibet. The country is the midst of a unique transition from absolute monarchy to multiparty democracy, bequeathed by the Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and not because of any popular uprising. Previously, his main accomplishment visible to the outside world was his Gross National Happiness standard-of-living index but in December last year, having set democracy in motion, he abdicated the throne in favor of his eldest son, the Oxford- educated Crown, he Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk.The benefits of happiness, however, do not seem to be available to Hindu Bhutanese."Some 108,000 Bhutanese refugees have been registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees," says Suhas Chakma, the director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), a New Delhi based rights body. Following a visit to the refugee camps in Nepal last month, Chakma reiterated his demand that Bhutan be held accountable for settlement of the exiles.Bhutan is finding this an annoying distraction from Jigme's plans for democracy, which is getting a series of dry runs prior to the election of a prime minister and council of ministers next year, diminishing the monarchy to a ceremonial role. A second round of mock polls was completed Monday, with schoolchildren under the supervision of the Election Commission of Bhutan participating as dummy candidates. Four mock parties the Druk Red Party, Druk Blue Party, Druk Green Party and Druk Yellow Party, each with different symbols and colors participated. Electronic Voting Machines were in place, with assistance and support from India.Meanwhile, two political parties, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bhutan People United Party (BPUP) have registered with the government. A third political party is in the offing, an alliance of retired civil servants, defense officials and businesspersons called the Bhutan National Party (BNP)."We definitely need at least three credible political parties, a local journalist told Asia Sentinel."Otherwise it may turn into a situation where the voters would have to select one from two worst candidates," he said. "We expect for a smooth transition, though I cannot deny that many Bhutanese people are still apprehensive about democracy."The mock polls are for everybody but the exiled Bhutanese, who repeatedly demanded to be included in the first round but were refused. Nepal-based separatists in the camps as well as the Bhutan Communist Party, a group formed by refugees, threatened to carry out bomb attacks in Bhutan during Monday's mock voting but the situation remained calm.The Nepal government raised the issue with Bhutanese authorities in 15 rounds of talks, though it failed to convince Thimphu to allow the refugees to go home. Not a single refugee has returned to Bhutan. India, though recognized as Bhutan's friendliest neighbor and biggest aid donor, has kept out of the dispute, arguing that 'it was a bilateral matter between Nepal and Bhutan.It is difficult to see any immediate solution. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres visited some of the Nepal-based refugees recently, the first visit by a high-ranking UNHCR official to the camps since they were established 16 years ago. Speaking in Kathmandu, Guterres reiterated UNHCR's continuing effort to resolve the issue"We will go on knocking at the door of Bhutan for the amicable repatriation of thousands of Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal," he asserted. "Amazingly, the refugees have a great will to go back."It appears that many of the Bhutanese will give up and migrate overseas. On May 26, US Ambassador to Nepal James F. Moriarty and announced that the US would offer permanent resident status to at least 60,000 of them, adding that the US would provide an additional US$2 million in food aid to the camps. Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway have also volunteered to take a share of refugees for resettlement. However, the Asian Center for Human Rights has asked all the countries not to undertake any hasty resettlements.Speaking to Asia Sentinel from New Delhi, Suhas Chakma, the Asian Human Rights Center director, stressed, "The international community must be mindful of the implications of any resettlement process without any written commitment from Bhutan. It would be tantamount to supporting ethnic cleansing policies by the Royal Government of Bhutan."He warned that if Bhutan can get away with 108,000 refugees, the situation of the remaining ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan could be untenable as they might also be forced to renounce their citizenship or leave Bhutan.""Bhutan, which has perfected the art of repression, need not expel the ethnic Nepalis en masse but it can somehow force them to leave," he said.

Forced philosophy in Bhutan

Tuesday, September 25,2007

Regarding David Howell's "Happiness can't be legislated": Happiness is not measurable by economic and material prosperity, yet the Bhutanese regime makes every effort to force people to comply with the principles of happiness that a dictator propagated. Media has been suppressed and censored. Speaking against the wrongdoings of the rulers results in severe punishment. Several people still face life imprisonment for doing so. People have no hand in prioritizing their agendas. What the king says becomes law. The demand for human rights and democracy is generally termed "antinationalist," and proponents are expelled from the country.Bhutan's efforts to practice a happiness philosophy were attempts to divert the international community from Bhutan's mistakes of expelling citizens. I agree with Howell that Bhutan brought in the concept of happiness at the wrong time, motivated by other interests; however, I disagree that Bhutan has confined foreigners to camps. Certainly, the people living as refugees in UNHCR camps in Nepal are not foreigners; they are the sons of the land of Bhutan.The "happiness formula" is not relevant at a time when one-sixth of the country's population remains evicted. It is foolish of some to state that only southern Bhutanese are migrants. Historically, Bhutan is a land of migrants.In short, the happiness formula renders comfort to rulers and their nears-and-dears. People in the rural areas still remain outside the benefits provided by national developments. So, in Bhutan's case, happiness is a forced philosophy.