By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
A PTI report from Kathmandu of 15th April, 2011 said that Nepal and Bhutan agreed to “kick-start” the stalled negotiations for the “repatriation of Bhutanese refugees languishing in camps in eastern Nepal for two decades.”
The report added that Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley who is on an official visit met the Nepalese counter part and had mutually agreed to resume negotiations on the repatriation of Bhutanese Refugees. The date for the resumption of talks will be decided soon through the diplomatic channels.
One can understand individuals being insincere, but not the two countries Nepal and Bhutan. It is time they stop playing games with the poor hapless refugees who have more or less resigned themselves to third country settlement.
As of mid January 2011 a total of 41,114 refugees had already left for resettlement and it is estimated that not more than 15000 of those opted would be left in the camps by 2013.
This charade of tempting the refugees with repatriation was once tried towards end 2008 and I give below what I had said then.
“Dr. Pema Gyantsho, Minister for Agriculture of Bhutan was recently in Kathmandu to attend the 25th Anniversary of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain development- ICIMOD.
The Minister made two points- one: The protracted crisis ( refugees) has been an embarrassment and that the new round of talks that is soon going to start on the issue will bear fruit. two: The Government of Bhutan is very serious in finding an amicable solution to the Bhutanese refugee crisis and has formed a high level team of government minsters for this purpose.
This is giving unnecessary hope once again to those refugees who have languished in the camps for seventeen years or more. They had lost all hopes of returning to Bhutan and have reluctantly resigned themselves to get settled in third countries. Even a few of those verified to be Bhutanese citizens from the Khudanabari camp have no hope of returning, not to talk of those coming under categories II, III & IV.
It is disappointing that this kind of a farce to have another group of ministers to seriously talk on the crisis is coming from a country that has a very enlightened monarchy, a nation that has taken sure and steady steps towards democracy and a nation that looks for a balanced and holistic approach to life based on the conviction that man is bound to nature in search for happiness.”
This charade of repatriation is being attempted once again after two and a half years and no one, least of all the remaining refugees are going to be fooled by this temptation.
In last August when asked why the UNHCR is focussing on third country settlement and not on repatriation, their Chief Mr. Jacquemet said “We do not want people to return as second class citizens. We need to have a guarantee by Bhutan that the refugees return with full citizenship with their human rights respected. Short of that we are not going to promote repatriation because we have so far no such guarantee.”
It may be recalled that when the US Representative visited the camps before third country settlement started, the refugees asked a pointed question why they are looking for resettlement and not repatriation. The Representative replied then and it holds good even now that they saw no possibility of the refugees being repatriated and the only solution available was to settle them in third countries.
As I have said before many times not a single refugee has been repatriated so far. This includes the two hundred and odd refugees who were jointly certified to be Bhutanese citizens in the verification done in the Kudenabari camp.
If Nepal and Bhutan are really concerned about the refugees languishing in the camps, let them make a beginning by repatriating the verified Bhutanese citizens of Kudenabari camp first before resuming the so called “ministerial talks.”
What needs to be done by both Nepal and Bhutan is to see how they are to manage the residual radical elements who will be over 20,000 in number and who have not registered themselves so far for third country settlement. For this the key is not with the Nepal government but with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
The Bhutan Government should also finally decide on what they should do with 80,000 Lhotsampas who come under the category F1 to F7 under the citizenship Act.
The refugees who have gone abroad are settling down. There are good and bad reports but overall the experiment is working and over a period of time they would do well in the countries that have adopted them.
It is not clear why Nepal and Bhutan are indulging in this farce of “repatriation” once again.