Sunday, August 5, 2007

Resettlement has already begun - Abraham Abraham


UNHCR and Nepal government carried out census exercise ahead of beginning the resettlement process. Photo: Bhutan News Service

Abraham ABRAHAM, the country representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Nepal has repeatedly talked of opening the doors for third country settlement of the exiled Bhutanese as prospects for repatriation has almost closed. Having worked in a number of countries for nearly three decades to repatriate and resettle refugees, Abraham currently he is active in finding out solution for exiled Bhutanese who were evicted some 17 years ago and taking asylum in Nepal since then. He talked to Ichha Poudyel and Vidhyapati Mishra of Bhutan News Service (BNS) resettlement and other on the contemporary issues. Excerpts:

Is it right that UNCHR stresses on resettlement over other options?
All the time voluntary repatriation has been considered as the best solution. We like that to happen. But when it doesn’t happen, we look for other alternatives as well. Resettlement door is actually open and that of repatriation is almost closed.

Majority of exiled Bhutanese and the Nepal government emphasis repatriation, but you say doors of repatriation have closed. Isn't it against their sentiment?
By bilateral talks no single refugee has been able to go back. They (refugees) have waited enough, for seventeen years. They cannot wait another seventeen years for the same.

Some exiled Bhutanese and their leaders accuse UNHCR of mobilizing a few to advocate for resettlement.
As far as we are concerned, we do not support any one whether it is Hari Bangaley or any body else (to advocate on resettlement). Refugees have right to choose options independently.

Presently camps are in quagmire. One cannot talk about resettlement due to fear of intimidation by the pro-repatriation faction. In such a situation, how can the process go ahead?
When we talk of security of a refugee, primary responsibility lies in the hands of government housing them. UNHCR will try its best within its mandate to help them. It is sad that refugees can not talk about resettlement in camps. It is certainly not a democratic practice. Every refugee has right to know what is going on about resettlement or any other options.

How UNHCR is working to clarify people about resettlement?
We work with the government of Nepal to inform refugees about resettlement. Outright, we haven’t worked out for any solution. We look for the comprehensive solution of the problem, not just one solution. We have to look into option which is practical one. Repatriation does not seem anywhere near. We still have to wait for talks. Local integration is not an issue as it has not come into table. Can we do resettlement? Yes, because many countries have offered it.

Is UNHCR helping those who claim to have displaced due to insecurity after Beldangi incidence?
It is sad that people are displaced from camp. It is something that should be addressed by the government of Nepal and UNHCR will work accordingly.

Can you tell us when will resettlement actually begin?
Actually, resettlement has already begun when Nepalese government agreed it as an alternative solution. But we have not started the practical ground work. This requires a lot of preparations. For example, even for US program, there is lot to be done to take refugees and make them adapt to a new place.

Which other countries have offered to resettle exiled Bhutanese and in what number?
Not all members of core group are accepting refugees. It (core group) tries to find out ways they can help refugees. Well, US has offered some 60,000 but it is ready to accept all who are interested. Canada has offered 5,000 and others will announce the number of refugees they can accommodate according to their policy. When it comes to resettlement, it is not a number issue because whoever wants to be resettled, will be resettled.

There has been scuffle in the camp regarding resettlement. Hasn’t it conveyed negative message to countries willing to resettle them?
You are making an offer and you do not have to break it. Also all 106,000 may not go. Those countries spending 18 million US dollars annually are requesting refugees to come and stay in their countries on humanitarian ground. Children in camps should get education. Most importantly resettlement does not preclude their right to return to Bhutan. It is always there.

Some exiled Bhutanese, especially elderly who may not accept resettlement and repatriation may not take place. Will camps be continued in that situation?
Certainly. Till we get funding from international community camps will continue for which I am very positive.

There is fast cut in aid provided. Doesn’t it look like a strategy to force them opt for resettlement?
This is wrong. Let me emphasize that no one will be forced to make any decision. I have not taken any steps to cut aid. In fact, this year the UNHCR’s budget for them has been increased by US$ 1 million in health and nutrition sectors. So, why talk of cutting aid when it has not yet happened?

Nepalese media reported some exiled Bhutanese obtained Nepalese citizenship. What measures would you apply to check them during resettlement? Will they be eligible for resettlement?
We are not the ones to make resettlement decision. If any one in camps has obtained Nepalese citizenship, he is not a refugee. So, he will not qualify for resettlement. Countries resettling them (refugees) have their own criteria to strictly check them out.

How have you evaluated Long March?
Unfortunately, one refugee got killed and it is not acceptable to the UNHCR .Here, we like to make it clear that while you have right to return, all must be careful in not jeopardizing the life of refugees - especially of women and children.

Health of exiled Bhutanese is deteriorating and many cases of denial of referral are reported. What's the reason?
First, I do not agree that there is denial of treatment .We have very strong health program in camps. In fact, it is the best sector we have supported. But UNHCR has very important policy that no tertiary referral will take place; if it is a terminal case i.e. if a patient is sure to die in few days or weeks. We have specific guidelines as to whom we can help and to what extent. UNHCR has to support 10 million refugees and over 13 million IDPs around the world. So we may not be able to meet all the expectations of refugees regarding their health and there we have to draw an absolute line and say ‘No more’.

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