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Unhcr's decision and bhutanease refugees.


Presently, there are tremendous upheavals in the Bhutanese refugee camps. The middle aged are losing the hope of returning back to Bhutan while the youth are frustrated due to delay and uncertainty in the repatriation process. The refugees need a quick action. They do not want to engage themselves in any fruitless pursuits. The elderly have begun to say, "If our bodies cannot be buried in our own mother land, then every thing is meaningless".
The Bhutanese fighting for democracy within their country are of the opinion that continuous international pressure is needed to solve the repatriation issue. They vehemently argue that whatever face-saving reformative measure the royal government of Bhutan has brought is because of the 1990 agitation and the present refugee impasse. They also argue that it was only because of the regular visit of the International Red Cross Society to prisons that the condition of the prisoners have improved and better food is being provided to prisoners.

Nevertheless, the situation of democracy and human-rights is worsening in Bhutan. Theoretically, the Bhutanese King has withdrawn his absolute veto. However, he has transferred power to his Council of Ministers that function as puppets. If the current refugee repatriation problem is allowed to fade away, the initiative to establish democracy would be completely obstructed. Consequently, the Bhutanese people may have to wait for reform for another couple of decades or more.

The UNHCR is exploring options for a durable solution to the refugee problem as per international standard, that is, through their repatriation to the home country. Such repatriation is, however, not possible because the UNHCR is not permitted to open its offices by Thimpu to monitor rehabilitation process of the repatriated refugees. Here, it must be noted that the UNHCR has already spent more than US $ five billion to solve the refugee issue. The second option of local settlement is more viable. However, this would be unfair to Nepal. Nepal is a country fraught in its internal crises while Bhutan has acute manpower shortage and could provide plenty of space and opportunity to its citizens to earn a livelihood.

In addition to this, none of the Bhutanese refugees are in favor of including any non-Bhutanese in the repatriation process. Instead, they are ready to verify themselves through an impartial tribunal. There is no knowledge of any non-Bhutanese in the refugee camps. However, if we look at the joint verification result of Nepal and Bhutan, there is presence of some non-Bhutanese in those camps. The number includes some son-in-laws (non Bhutanese married to a Bhutanese girl and their children permitted by Bhutan to temporarily stay in Bhutan), who are not citizens of Nepal but Indian Nepalese, Bengalis, Biharees and Kachhadis.

The third country resettlement might not accommodate all the Bhutanese refugees. It could also lead to the segregation of some families, which will be unable to fulfill the criteria of resettlement. Moreover, most of the refugee families have very limited human resources and they cannot survive in a highly modernized society. On top of this, the scheme to settle in India is not appropriate because for centuries, many Bhutanese have taken shelter in India, including the present king's step mother, step brothers and reincarnated Shabdrungs (the founder of Bhutan).

Resettlement of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and abroad would definitely be a reward to the policy of ethnic cleansing adopted by Bhutan. It would be a setback to the neo- democratic struggle as well. The refugees should not bow down to a racially bigoted (Royal Government of Bhutan) that continuously conspires and adopts delaying tactics, instead of initiating negotiation, reconciliation and dialogue with the genuine Bhutanese. After all, the assistance provided by the international community to the Bhutanese refugees was not meant to promote the tyrant. Rather, it was to foster peace and democracy in Bhutan.

Indeed, the UNHCR should have formally raised the issue of refugee repatriation with India. And, if the international community had given an appropriate mandate, India could have used its special leverage to ease the repatriation process. Nevertheless, India has her own obligations as per the Indo-Bhutan treaty. Despite such a mandate, if India would not have changed its opinion regarding the refugee repatriation issue, the UNHCR should have taken the help of the international court of justice in The Hague to screen non-Bhutanese (if any) for justice.

In the meantime, as a basis to seek help from international tribunal, the UNHCR could immediately start issuing identity card to all the Bhutanese refugees involving a legitimate third party to verify the Bhutanese staying in refugee camps. The Bhutanese refugee is not only a humanitarian issue; it is a result of pure ethnic cleansing as it was the case in Bosnia Herze- Govenia. Likewise, the UNHCR could issue its logo inscribed identity card and train the refugees to become self sustainable, instead of making them stand in queue to get their share of ration like beggars.

It would be beneficial if the genuine Bhutanese refrain from taking citizenship of a foreign land along with their Bhutanese citizenship. Doing so would create another pretext for Bhutan to initiate the "filling voluntary migration form" that was initially made to fill at gunpoint.