Saturday, June 21, 2008

Question Of Refugee Repatriation

Source: The Rising Nepal

By: T P Mishra

Human beings are social ani-mals who are po- litically influenced, and they are certain to get involved in political demonstrations aimed at raising voices for the stablishment of their rights. Though it is one of the fundamental rights, Bhutanese refugees in Nepal are barred from staging a peaceful campaign or other programmes for the return to their original homeland.

In fact, it is unfair and unjustifiable to restrict the refugees from holding peaceful demonstrations in the name of controlling crime-related activities inside the refugee camps. Undoubtedly, there has been a rise in crimes and unruly activities inside these camps, most of them said to be instigated by the underground revolutionary outfits. Perpetrators should not allowed to go scot free, but it is not wise on the part of the local authorities to restrict innocent peaceful demonstrators from raising their voice for repatriation.

Following the option of Third Country Resettlement (TCR), other options, in particular the repatriation process of Bhutanese refugees, is getting overshadowed. In recent times, the different media in Nepal have been reporting that the local authorities in Jhapa and Morang districts are clamping restrictions on peaceful demonstrations and protests in favour of repatriation inside the refugee camps.

Nepal’s frequent claim that it supports and gives priority to the repatriation process sounds contradictory. Actually, the Government of Nepal has failed to convince Thimphu to accelerate the repatriation process while the local authorities are opting measures to restrict the refugees from holding peaceful demonstrations inside the UNHCR-administered camps.
In the last week of May last year, thousands of refugees who staged peaceful protests were stranded at the Indo-Bhutan border on the Mechi Bridge by the Indian security forces while demanding passage to Bhutan. The Indian police intervened to stop the demonstrators, and in the scuffle, an innocent refugee youth Shah Bahadur Dewan was shot dead. Not only this, hundreds of those who sustained injuries are still undergoing medical treatment.
The local authority’s decision to restrict peaceful demonstrations inside the refugee camps clearly shows its intention to suppress the refugees’ sentiments to return to their home, Bhutan. This sort of behaviour from the local authorities at a time when Nepal has already become a republic with a pledge to enter a ‘New Nepal’ leaves a number of unanswered queries.
Bhutanese refugees being of Nepali ethnic origin are certainly close to Nepal. Moreover, the refugees have high hopes that their issue will be solved with the efforts and support from the Government of Nepal. Nepal should, thus, become ‘liberal’ and allow the refugees to at least demonstrate their feelings and demands through peaceful means.

However, it is equally necessary to maintain good vigilance by the Armed Police Force (APF), deployed in each of the seven camps, to see that there is no infiltration by untoward elements in such demonstrations. The refugees should also ensure that they abide by the law of the host country while staging such peaceful protests. Any violent attempts from refugees to raise their voice - be it for repatriation, resettlement or local assimilation - would certainly be a criminal acts. Only in such cases should the local authorities try to disband the refugees’ protests. Or else it is unfair not to allow peaceful protest programmes.

Meanwhile, those refugees and groups favouring the option of repatriation should not obstruct the resettlement process as there is increasing number of people from the same community wishing to opt for it. A sense of mutual cooperation and understanding between the divided opinions among the refugees is a must to ensure that all possible options are unlocked.

Now-a-days the efforts to press the Druk regime to accelerate the repatriation process are limited to ‘issuing media statements’. None of the concerned authorities, including the Government of Nepal, are opting for practical measures to bring Bhutan to the negotiating table. As a result, those refugees who wish to return to Bhutan have started making efforts on their own, particularly through peaceful protests inside the refugee camps.
It should be clearly understood that suppressing such efforts of the refugees by no means will discourage them from raising their voice for repatriation. Rather it will only add fuel to the refugee problem. The authorities concerned should take urgent and necessary initiatives to address the demands of the refugees.

(Editor of BNS, Mishra is also president of the Bhutan Chapter of Third World Media Network and can be reached at:

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