Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Resettlement : Need Of The Hour

Source: The Rising Nepal

By Kazi Gautam

A good few refugees seem happy as about five hundred of them will be resettled in the United States very soon. With this, the much anticipated resettlement proposal is formally being implemented. This is to be followed by a monthly resettlement of some thousand refugees in the US. Also, some refugees have been waiting to be resettled in countries like England, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and others.

There have been some incidents that have a direct connection with the resettlement scheme of the United States. Arjun Subba, a refugee from Beldangi I, was shot on the stomach a month back. A year ago, some refugee huts belonging to those who showed interest in being resettled were burnt to ashes. Hari Bangaley was even beaten up severely for advocating the resettlement plan. Prior to this, he had managed to evade attacks by unidentified armed assailants on April 10. To add, Parshu Ram Dahal of Timai camp and three refugee teachers were harassed solely for showing interest in the U.S. proposal.

Prior to the attempt to murder Subba, I had been to the refugee camp. What I saw near the Armed Police check post (APP) in Beldangi II extension refugee camp took me by surprise. It was seven o'clock in the morning. Owing to the cold mid-winter morning, there were very few people in the vicinity.

Not withstanding the cold weather, a handful of people were seen standing, turning their heads every now and then as if they were impatiently waiting for someone. The arrival of a vehicle of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) at 7.30 made me dead sure that the people standing nearby were going to the IOM office to be interviewed for resettlement.

The situation in the camps seemed friendly then. We found the refugees at ease. They were happy with the establishment of the (APP). However, with the assault on Subba, things have changed, and everyone is on high alert.

Although, some section of the people have made their resolve to be resettled in the western countries, the reasons for doing so differ from individual to individual. The elderly people have decided to opt for resettlement only so that the future generation can have a better future. Others want to live like humans. There are some who don't see the prospect of getting repatriated. Most of them have decided to fight for the establishment of democracy in Bhutan even after getting resettled. Above all, most of them have accepted it as the need of the hour.

Resettlement does not seem difficult given the information campaign conducted by officials of the UNHCR and the US. Nonetheless, the people fear whether their academic certificates would be recognised abroad. Some commoners doubt if they would be allowed to practise their culture and follow their religion in the western countries. Some youths want to go abroad regardless of whether their parents want to accompany them or not.

It is clear that some factors are posing as obstacles to the resettlement programme. Just when resettlement is about to begin, some people are being confused by news appearing in different newspapers. This has, however, had a positive effect. Many refugees are seen crowding the UNHCR and IOM offices to get firsthand information about the procedure of resettlement and weigh its credibility.

On the other hand, some people still have a faint hope to get repatriated. They don't want to pose a hindrance to those wanting to start a new life thousands of miles away, but they themselves want to return to their country with honour and dignity. According to them, resettling refugees in the western countries will not bring a lasting solution to the problem.

After 17 years of stay in the refugee camps, the refugees have probably decided for themselves what their future should be like. So they are likely to have differences of opinion. Some people have been terrorising the innocent refugees and not allowing them to think of the options at hand. It must be realised that nothing can be solved by force. Ultimate success comes only through peaceful dialogue. This is the right time for the refugees to comprehend the complexities surrounding the crisis.

The latest activities of the Druk dictator need to be read between the lines. It must be analysed whether the king who is imprisoning the southerners, alleging them of having links with the Bhutan Communist Party (UML), will accept its exiled ones. Let us suppose the refugees are repatriated. Is there any prospect of getting compensation for the sufferings during these 17 years? Will the political parties formed in exile be recognised?

There are numerous questions that directly touch the lives of the Bhutanese, living inside and outside Bhutan. Whatever the matter, the refugees must be practical and respect others' opinion. No one - be he a leader or a commoner - should snatch away the refugees' rights to decide their future themselves. Furthermore, it would be wise on the part of the refugees to discourage acts of violence in the refugee camps. Let a conducive environment be created so that all refugees can feel free to discuss their future.
(Gautam is chief editor, The Bhutan Reporter)

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