The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Repatriate refugees

Bhutan holding India's hand has flatly refused to take back the verified refugees of Khudunabari camp. Thimpu still claims that the evicted refugees are not bonafide Bhutanese nationals despite being the victims of ethnic cleansing. This, obviously, is a slap on the face of the international community, especially the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which should have taken strong stand on the repatriation of the verified refugees. It, instead, is advocating the third country settlement. In fact India and some European countries, which are advocating pluralism, democracy and human rights in third world countries, have backed the development projects in Bhutan, overlooking the refugee impasse. India says it is a bilateral matter though the refugees entered Nepal via India's chicken neck corridor. No matter how it deems the refugee impasse, India cannot ignore its responsibility citing it a bilateral matter. The international community knows it well that India has sided with Bhutan on the repatriation process.

The double stand adopted by India and some Western countries on the refugee right to return to their country illustrates that the so-called democratic countries are protecting the tinpot dictator. Such stand apparently encourages Bhutan to evict more people. Bhutan would have taken back all the refugees had Delhi asked the tinpot dictator to do so. Similarly, Switzerland, Denmark and other Nordic countries should have exerted pressure on the dictator to take back the refugees. But these countries continue to back the development projects in that country. The Bhutanese dictator has drafted the constitution without seeking any refugee consent. Has there been any dictator who has drafted a democratic constitution that met the people's aspirations? If Jigme Singye Wangchuck is a benevolent dictator, then why does he hesitate to take back his people?

The royal fossil Nagendra Bikram Shah handpicked by the royal regime as foreign minister committed another blunder. He deceived the one hundred thousand refugees instead of helping them repatriate to their homeland. The royal fossil agreed on the Bhutanese proposal --- the host country would initiate a process of assimilation. The 14 rounds of ministerial level bilateral talks produced no tangible result on the repartition process. What it did was that it stalled the bilateral talks and the verification team proved what the tinpot dictator was lying to the international community. Until the verification of Khudunabari camp, the dictator had claimed the people languishing at UNHCR-sponsored camps were not bona-fide refugees. The December 22 incident that led to pelting of stones at Bhutan's Joint Verification Team took place after the team used abusive language and strict conditions for the refugees. Such incident should not have delayed the refugee repatriation. Now India must understand this and help the refugees return to their homeland. The UNHCR should also respect what the refugees wish, and not what it wants.

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