Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Let Individual Refugees Decide

Source: Rising Nepal

T. P. Mishra
Of late, the offer of third country resettlement of the Bhutanese refugees has been gaining momentum, shadowing other options viz repatriation and local assimilation. Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of Nepal and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the resettlement option has been opened.

Hot debates have already begun as to whether third country resettlement is a lasting solution to the long-standing Bhutanese refugee crisis. The fact that resettlement can only be a step towards a durable solution and not a permanent outlet in itself to the Bhutanese political problem cannot be denied.

The increasing violence inside the UNHCR-sponsored cantonments in Nepal since the last few months, particularly concerning the resettlement offer, clearly hints that the authorities concerned should work towards creating a favourable and intrepid atmosphere so that individual refugees can decide their future.

Refugees have had long experience with politics inside and outside the host country. Thus, there is divided opinion among the refugees. Considering all these factors, individual refugees must be given a chance to decide on the options available - repatriation, resettlement or local assimilation.

More interestingly, the refugees' divergent opinions have only baffled the concerned bodies. Each of the organisations or political parties formed inside the camps to work for a solution to the crisis has always strived to manipulate the people in their own way. Be it the Tek Nath Rizal-led Bhutanese Movement Steering Committee or Hari Bangaley-led Bhutanese Refugee Durable Solution Co-ordinating Committee (BRDSCC), they have their own stance on resolving the crisis.

On the other side, the Communist Party of Bhutan (CPB-MLM) has recently warned the concerned authorities not to begin the process of third country resettlement. Organising a press conference at an unknown place, Binod, a member of the CPB-MLM's Co-ordinating Committee in Exile, had warned that they would come up with protest programmes and also take physical action if the UNHCR begins the resettlement process by using organisations from within the Bhutanese community.

Manipulation and internal intimidation by the Bhutanese organisations themselves pose a challenge to security in the camps. No matter how the situation proceeds, a favourable atmosphere should be created for individual refugees to decide their fate. Unlocking a single option - whether repatriation, resettlement or local assimilation - cannot deliver a suitable outlet as there is divided opinion among the refugees.

In the name of establishing democracy in Bhutan, a few political parties as well as dozens of other apolitical organisations have come into existence. But most of these organisations that claim to be working for the welfare of the Bhutanese people are making zero progress especially in the context of fighting for democracy in Bhutan.
The political and apolitical organisations formed in exile do only paperwork. The question of a unified ideology towards finding a solution to the refugee stalemate is a farce. And these days it is growing even harder. There visibly exists three groups - one favouring repatriation through peaceful means, the other preferring a revolt to establish democracy in the country, and another favouring third country resettlement. The possibility of bringing all these groups to a common point, however, is difficult. All this is leading the people to more confusion.

The offer of third country resettlement itself may not be a bad option, but it cannot be a solution to the Bhutanese political problem. The Bhutanese people's struggle towards democracy should continue under any circumstances and regardless of wherever they resettle or assimilate.

Actually, the refugees are fed up with the activities of some of their leaders. The ideological differences within these groups have, in fact, left the general people in a quandary. This difference has created havoc inside the Bhutanese refugee camps. Thus, this trend should not be allowed to continue to ensure that individuals have the right to decide their future on their own without manipulation and intimidation by a third party.

Meanwhile, all the political and apolitical organisations in exile must work to create an environment of consensus. They must understand the sentiments of the general people in the camps. The refugees shouldn't be forced to adopt any of the options available on the table. The concerned authorities should provide adequate and reliable information on the options available so that the people are well informed to take informed decisions.
(Mishra is Editor of Bhutan News Service)

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