Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Security For Refugees

Source: The Rising Nepal
T. P. Mishra
Inability of the authorities to beef up security inside the Bhutanese refugee camps has led to a series of violent activities. In the recent months, disputes have already claimed at least three innocent young lives.

Despite repeated calls to tighten security, the UNHCR as well as the Government of Nepal haven't yet re-established the security posts inside the camps. As a result, the normal life of the people in the camps has been crippled.

Frequent violence
A small dispute between the Forestry officials and refugees at Sanischare camp on February 22 led to an uncontrolled scuffle, and claimed the lives of two youths, including one refugee from Sanischare camp. Despite several attempts to bring the situation to normalcy, life, both in the local areas and in Sanischare camp, got complicated, and there was fear among the refugees for at least a week.

When the locals from Jirkhimti village of Pathri Baazar set on fire refugee huts at Sectors 'J' and 'K' on February 23, no authority was around to control the situation, and at least five huts were turned to ashes. The locals, chanting slogans against the Bhutanese refugees, even blocked the Mahendra highway to stop the fire brigade and ambulances from reaching the camps.

The incident at Beldangi camp on May 27-28 over the so-called 'controversial' interview of Hari Adhikari Bangale, the camp secretary, is yet another illustration of the unmanaged and weak security situation inside the refugee camps. Two youths from Beldangi camp were killed in police firing during the latter's attempt to bring the situation under control. Unproved so far, it is also said that Bhutanese Maoists were involved in manhandling Bangale.

The mostly targeted people in the camps are those favouring the US offer of third country resettlement. Actually, even with the establishment of an Overseas Processing Entity by the International Office of Migration, the authorities concerned are not giving reliable information about resettlement. People in the camps do not trust the information that they receive from pro-resettlement activists or their leaders from within the same community. This is one of the prime reasons behind the frequent disputes in the refugee camps.

Meanwhile, it has to be well considered that an individual's right to expression and, in particular, his or her right to choose any of the options available for settlement should be promoted. As we live in a democratic era, the trend of violating others' rights while raising our concern should be done away with.

Even as the Home Ministry of Nepal gave assurances to provide between 25-30 armed policemen for each of the seven refugee camps by the middle of July, another ugly incident occurred in Beldangi camp on August 12.

A group of youths and women severely beat up Manorath Khanal, camp secretary of Beldangi � II, accusing him of giving approval to Pingala Dhital to attend an overseas international conference. Both of them favour third country resettlement. Not only this, the youths also vandalised the huts of those advocating 'third country resettlement' including those of Dhital and Khanal.

The local authorities and the UNHCR usually claim that they are in constant touch to bring normalcy in the situation. It would not be a mistake to say that the UNHCR remains a mute spectator to such incidents. Otherwise, why can't the UNHCR take the necessary measures to create a peaceful and safe environment for these refugees when the Home Ministry of Nepal has said that it would deploy the security forces? It should not be forgotten that the more the refugees involve in violence, the more complicated the issue becomes. In such a scenario, the Druk oligarchy will only benefit.

If the authorities concerned continue to fail to beef up the security situation inside the Bhutanese refugee camps, then more tensions are likely to brew in the days to come. Therefore, the UNCHR and the Government of Nepal should immediately take measures to bring the tense situation to normalcy.
It is equally necessary to probe into the facts behind such-natured violence and drag the criminals, whosoever it is, to the court of justice. Refugee's right to stay under safe and secured environment must be promoted by all individuals including the authorities concerned. Even innocent people in camps are victimised from such violence. Refugee, who so ever and of any opinion, should demonstrate their civil responsibility and establish an atmosphere of mutual respect for each other's views and opinions.

On the other side, it has to be well considered that until the UNCHR itself takes initiatives to inform people in camps regarding the offer of third country resettlement then it would lead to further violence as refugees are in no account to listen to any information from the pro-resettlement activists in camps. Those activists should pressurise and lobby authorities concerned to inform people in camps rather then attempting to advocate on their own. Should the tensed situation continue as in recent days then process for both resettlement and repatriation will get derailed leading the lives of refugees' to further ailment.

(Mishra is president of Third World Media Network Bhutan Chapter)

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