The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Sunday, July 22, 2007

BHUTAN: Right Time to Work out a Durable Solution

BHUTAN: Right Time to Work out a Durable Solution: Update No. 65By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.Source: SAAAGIt is seen that more and more refugees are being persuaded not to accept third country settlement but to agitate for their return to Bhutan. The hardliners appear to be gaining ground and the moderate voices are being threatened and silenced. It is therefore necessary to review the present situation and make an appeal to the hardliners not to lose the present opportunity to find a durable solution for the crisis that has been lingering on for the past sixteen years.The agitation by the refugee outfits to march to Bhutan through the Mechi bridge has been suspended for another month in view of the Presidential elections in India and India’s promise that it is working on a solution. The real reason for postponement of the agitation is based on the hope that now India is involved, an equitable solution can be found and that there is no need in continuing with the agitation at this point of time.The agitation is spearheaded by a loose coalition that went by the name “ National Front for Democracy” ( NFD) that was supported by the Maoist Group, one faction of the Bhutan People’s Party (BPP), one faction of Bhutan Gorkha Liberation Front ( BGLF), one faction of Druk National Congress (DNC) and also by other radical outfits like Bhutan Tiger Force ( BTF).For the first time, a large number of factions who have had nothing in common so far and whose objectives are as varied from return to homeland, establishment of democracy in Bhutan, to people’s war, have decided to wait and see India’s moves on the refugee question. This is therefore the right time to make quick moves towards a durable solution that would satisfy a majority of the refugees. There is also an urgency to this issue as the western countries who have offered to take the bulk of the refugees will not wait indefinitely when they have already made preliminary moves for settlement in third countries.In this connection some points need to be reiterated-1. The moderate factions in the refugee camps have lost out already and their call for reconciliation with the Bhutan Government has been rejected.2. There is no way physical verification for the purpose of categorisation under four headings is possible in the camps and unruly elements with support from outside will not let any physical verification in the remaining five camps. 3. Any durable solution should find a way out for Bhutan to manage its ethnic population. A figure of 25 percent of non Druk population is being unofficially projected ( i.e. status quo) as manageable, but certainly with some understanding and sympathy a larger percentage should be acceptable.4. Opposition to third country settlement is increasing despite assurances from US Ambassador who visited the camps as well as the efforts of certain well meaning NGOs. A sample survey indicated that a large section of ‘Matwalis” are not keen to go to any western country for settlement.5. It is also said that Bhutan could be persuaded to review its position and take some of those refugees who have come from Chirang and Dagapala and who are perhaps not so politicised as the ones from Samchi.6. Way back in 1989, Bhutan did publish a white paper that said that it had only about 17000 non Bhutanese and that this also happened because of cross marriages besides some labour who stayed beyond the stipulated period.7. Over 80 percent of the refugees in the camps hold citizenship cards and this fact cannot be wished away8. We have time and again pointed out that 1958 should be the ‘cut off ‘ year for identifying Bhutanese from the non Bhutanese. The year of 1958 as the cutoff for citizenship eligibility has also been indirectly accepted in the new constitution.9. Most of the refugees who prefer to go for third country settlement are also keen to keep their option of ‘right to return’, though it is very unlikely that they would do.10. It is still not too late to classify the refugees on the basis of records available with the Bhutan Government with1958 being made the cutoff year. If ethnic management is the problem, then let the Bhutanese authorities choose and make the classification to I, II and III ( category IV is non Bhutanese who do not figure in this issue). It will then be easier for the countries who have offered to take the refugees to choose from categories II & III. Category I may not be acceptable and from the other two, they would prefer category II and perhaps a selected few from category III.11. It will be hard for the refugees from category II who signed the forms pertaining to voluntary renunciation of citizenship under coercion ( Bhutan may not admit it) - but at least they can look forward to a new beginning in their life and it is almost certain that by their hard work and dedication will not only prosper but in course of time support financially others back home. As said before, this is an opportunity to arrive at a durable and satisfactory solution for all the stake holders in the refugee crisis in Bhutan. This will also help in eliminating a potential build up for an insurgency in southern Bhutan. India by its involvement would have redeemed itself for all its past deliberate indifference and Bhutan could also look forward to an ‘irritant free’ future while moving into a democratic mode with elections scheduled in 2008.

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