The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Monday, October 16, 2006

Is US Offering A Lasting Solution? -Vijaya Chalise

Refugee Crisis

Is US Offering A Lasting Solution? [ 2006-10-16 ]

By Vijaya Chalise

THE US offer to accept 60,000 Bhutanese refugees languishing in the seven refugee camps in Nepal for the past fifteen years has ignited a debate. A section of refugees have welcomed the US proposal, the other is making harsh comments. Considering the US proposal as an encouragement for the Druk regime to go against the right of Bhutanese people, the Bhutanese refugee leader Tek Nath Rizal alleged that such an offer is creating rift and confusion among the refugees. Obviously, it is better to assist the refugees in their dignified repatriation campaign rather than encourage them towards third country resettlement. Though, it will help settle about half the refugee problems, it will not yield a lasting solution for those refugees who want to return to their country with dignity. Furthermore, this sort of third country resettlement scheme might encourage the Thimpu government to continue its policy of ethnic cleansing. Therefore, the fear that the American offer may inspire to increase the racist policy is obvious.

Better Life

If the refugees will have a better life elsewhere in comparison to the life in the refugee camps, it is good to accept the US floated resettlement plan. But, how the refugees will be resettled in America should be clear, if they are not destined the supply of cheap labor in the American job market having no dignity of life,Despite advocacy for democracy and freedom, India's silence on the issue of Bhutanese refugees obviously shows that it is not all comfortable with refugees going back home. Ignoring Bhutan's suppression of democracy and the policy of ethnic cleansing, preaching of democracy by India and the US to the leaders of the developing countries, would be a loss on moral ground. For the reason that enjoying the strength of India's indifference and apathy towards refugees, Thimpu all the time is maneuvering and bolstering energy enough to solve the problem of Bhutanese citizens. India, the prime force capable to solve the crisis, has remained passive for the past 16 years. Similarly, the countries that are floating the resettlement plan have never shown keen interest in repatriation of the Bhutanese refugees, which could have been possible in their honest initiatives. The Bhutanese side has been playing one trick after another and Nepal was unable to understand that at first. At the outset, Bhutan out rightly denied that the people in the camps were Bhutanese citizens. Afterwards Thimpu said some of them were economic migrants of the recent past, and that's why they were evacuated. Later, it agreed to accept the genuine citizen only after categorization of the people in the camps into four groups. Accepting the condition of categorization into four groups was a blunder from our side. Despite the fact that the problem involved Nepal, Bhutan, and India, Nepal accepted bi-lateral dialogue at the home ministry level. It was another mistake to think about resolving the refugee issue without India's mediation. The then Nepali Congress government agreed to Thimpu's precondition that talks should be bilateral. As India lies between Nepal and Bhutan, Bhutanese refugees had first taken refuge into Indian land and later they were forcefully driven away to Nepal by the Indian authority. Similarly, India's positive node was essential as; the 1949 Indo-Bhutanese treaty retains a 1910 British clause to guide the foreign relation issues of Bhutan, which ensure New Delhi's influence over Bhutan's foreign, and security policies. Even the acceptance of Bhutan's clever proposal of four-category concept was a blunder committed by us. To try to resolve the refugee impasse at the bilateral level without massive international pressure was another mistake. It is now a proved fact that international pressure is a must since bilateral efforts have failed to produce results. Thus, diplomatically, Nepal failed in every sphere to portray the real issue to the international community; where as Bhutan and Indian media mislead them successfully.The complexity of the refugee issue was a bi-product of the deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing of the Druk regime. And the refugees were uprooted from their homes because of political reasons. Thus the refugee problem is purely the problem between the Bhutanese government and its people. The problem started in 1985 when Bhutan made a new citizenship law, targeting against Lotsampas (Southern Bhutanese) of the Nepalese root, after revoking the citizenship Act 1958. Thousands of Southern Bhutanese, who had been living there for generations, were declared non-Bhutanese. The government started forcibly evacuating them from their home and fields. Historically it is a proven fact that Nepalese were taken to Bhutan for constructions and other works more than 350 years ago. Their descendents have been living there for more than 12 generations, while monarchy in Bhutan dates back to just four generation.However, despite agreement to sit together for another round of foreign minister level talks between Nepal and Bhutan in Kathmandu in November next month, no change is seen in the Bhutanese policy on refugee issue. This can be understood from Bhutan's National Assembly member's demand for total ban on repatriation of refugees in its 81st session in Thimpu. This demand along with the social and religious code 'Driglam Namzha', banning the wearing of other dress, except the national dress by Bhutanese people, backs the theory that the ethnic cleansing process against the Southern Bhutanese of Nepalese origin has been there in action. This has resulted in gross human rights abuses in Bhutan against UN Human rights Declarations. However, the Bhutanese regime has always been successful in diverting the attention of the international community from the real issue of human rights and democracy. It has obviously contributed to the lack of international cooperation and pressure to resolve the problem. StanceDeputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, K. P. Oli seems hopeful for finding a final solution to resolve the Bhutanese refugees crisis. However, the up coming 16th round of bi-lateral talks to be influenced by the United Nation High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) backed US resettlement proposal as a part of third country resettlement plan enhanced by the US and other European Countries is obvious. Since Nepal is always flexible in its stand and policy towards the issue, it would be better if Nepal could make public its stance towards the US package of third country resettlement of Bhutanese refugees. Similarly, before deciding the resettlement proposal it would be better to form a commission including members of civil society and human rights representatives to examine whether majority of refugees want to be settled in a third country or go back to their own land.

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